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Diversify or die

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There is an article in New Scientist (  mentions more problems for the world’s food supply.  A strain of wheat fungus, Ug99 is spreading through some of the world’s most populated countries, including India.  It’s not your garden-variety stem rust, either:

“On mature wheat, the fungus reproduces asexually to release billions of identical spores. If the spores drift onto a barberry bush (Berberis vulgaris), however, they switch to sexual reproduction, and so could swap genes with other stem rusts to produce completely new variants.”

In other words, Ug99 sucker is evolutionarily ready to rumble.  By being “smart” enough to be able to reproduce in almost any condition, this Andromedia Strain of plant fungus poses a real problem.  By putting all of our proverbial eggs in to one breadbasket, we’ve set ourselves up for a global food crisis. 

The biologist in me knows that diversity is the natural process of the world.  Humans, because of our habitual natures, have greatly focused on corn and wheat, and, I suppose, have hoped for the best.  The hippie (for lack of a better term) in me has learned that there are other grains out there (spelt, amaranth,) that are reasonable substitutes (even, in some cases, better substitutes, as far as nutrition.) Yet, these are not widely available, and therefore not widely known.  There’s plenty of blame to go ’round; government subsidies, and so on, but the real issue here is less about the blame, and more about the solution.  By continuing to stick our fingers in our ears and to yell “LA LA LA LA,” or looking with pity on those who have a “real” problem (and, in my estimation, more expensive pizza does not constitute a real problem,) we are only pushing ourselves higher up the mountain, and therefore towards a worse fall.



Written by Jen Szymanski

May 16, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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