Grant Given to Cornell to Fight Wheat Disease

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards Cornell $26.8 million.

CornellUniversity is using a grant of $26.8 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop rust-resistant varieties of wheat, screen for rust at facilities in Kenya and Ethiopia and track the spread of new rust variants. The New Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Program was announced at the International Maize and WheatImprovementCenter in Obregon, Mexico.

Scientists have developed several resistant strains of wheat over the past 50 years, but according to Cornell researchers, more than 90% of the world's wheat is susceptible to new types of rust coming from East Africa.

The spread of Ug99, a disease first discovered in Uganda in 1999, has sped through East Africa and is invading Asia. Yemen found it last year and Iran has confirmed its presence as well.

With world wheat stocks at all time lows and demand for wheat higher, the world can not afford to allow these diseases to continue to spread. If Ug99 spreads through Central Asia, it could devastate the estimated 296 million acres of wheat in the area.

According to Cornell's Ronnie Coffman, the project leader, a world-wide effort is needed to fight these new strains of rust; otherwise it will have a staggering effect on wheat production around the globe.

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