When a team of researchers set loose a buzzing horde of Hessian flies on 20,000 seedlings in a Kansas greenhouse, they made a discovery that continues to ripple from Midwestern wheat fields to the rolling hills that surround the battered Syrian city of Aleppo. The seeds once stored in a seed bank outside of that now largely destroyed city could end up saving United States wheat from the disruptions triggered by climate change — and look likely to, soon enough, make their way into the foods that Americans eat.
Rising temperatures are already leading to drops in Midwestern crop yields that could, under current medium and high emissions scenarios, lead to further drops of as much as 4 percent per year. In the heart of U.S. cereal and grain country, new pests and diseases are following the hot and dry conditions northward — and frequently overwhelming the ability of agricultural chemicals to battle them off. In response, scientists are seeking sources of natural resistance — and finding them in Syria, in the heart of the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of domesticated agriculture.
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