Plant biologist explains how disease-resistant crops could help prevent global famine

food africa wheat

Each month, those working at the pioneering heart of Norwich Research Park [in the UK] tell us how their work is shaping the world.

Scientists are racing to stop plant diseases that could devastate staple crops like wheat, corn and potato – resulting in food shortages around the world. Biologist Dr Peter van Esse of The Sainsbury Laboratory is one of them.

How is your work making a difference to the world today? …. If a fungus was to take hold in the wheat-producing region of Punjab, India; it would be similar to a natural disaster like a tsunami …. Our biggest crops are already affected by diseases that could become catastrophic — my job is to avoid that.

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That sounds quite dramatic. The Irish potato famine of 1845-49 killed over 1 million …. people might not think that could happen again, but it could.

How are you preparing for this threat? …. Because plant pathogens can quickly overcome single resistance sources, we must build more robust solutions, a bit like having a longer password for security. If we introduce four types of resistance into the plant to recognize a disease before it spreads through a crop, it’ll be resistant for much longer.

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