Wheat is among the planet's most important food crops, but it has a natural enemy that can turn the crop into a black tangle of broken stems.
Cornell University hopes a new $26.8 million grant can help them combat the emergence of deadly new strains of rust disease. The goal is to help avert a pandemic that could produce catastrophic wheat crop losses worldwide.
The grant, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be used to develop improved rust-resistant wheat varieties and support critical wheat rust screening facilities in Kenya and Ethiopia. It will also help to track the spread of new variants and foster global awareness.
Wheat represents approximately 30 percent of the world's production of grain crops. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates nearly 600 million tons of wheat will be harvested this year from 543 million acres of land - nearly half of that in developing countries.
Cornell scientists estimate that about 90 percent of the world's wheat crop is vulnerable to the new types of stem, or black, rust disease emerging out of East Africa.