“The advance of fungi threatens the world’s food”

10-23% of crop loss occurs annually due to the northward rise of mold due to the climate crisis

Fungi are resilient, travel long distances on the wind, and can eat large fields of a single crop. [사진= 게티이미지뱅크]
Fungal attacks on the world’s major crops are rapidly increasing, threatening the planet’s future food supply, warning that failure to address fungal pathogens could result in a ‘global health catastrophe’. This is what the British Guardian reported on the 3rd (local time) based on a paper by British and German researchers published in 《Nature》.

Fungi are already the biggest destroyers of crops. Fungi are resilient, travel long distances on the wind, and can eat large fields of a single crop. There are also many fungi that are very adaptable and are resistant to common fungicides.

The researchers warned that the adverse effects of fungal diseases are expected as temperatures rise due to the climate crisis and fungal infections steadily migrate to the poles. Since the 1990s, fungal pathogens have been migrating to high latitudes at a rate of about 7 km per year. Wheat stem rust infection, commonly found in the tropics, has already been reported in England and Ireland. While rising temperatures lead to the emergence of new strains of fungal pathogens, larger storms such as typhoons and hurricanes are causing the spread of fungal spores farther.

Professor Sarah Gerr of the University of Exeter, UK, one of the authors of the two papers, pointed out that fungi have recently come to the public’s attention through the HBO drama ‘The Last of Us’, which tells about fungi infecting the human brain. “This story is science fiction, but it warns that a fungal infection spreading rapidly across the world could lead to a global health catastrophe,” he said. “The real imminent threat is not zombies, but global starvation.” Of course, it cannot be ruled out that global warming will increase the heat resistance of fungi, leading to fungi jumping over their hosts and infecting warm-blooded animals and humans.

Another author, Professor Eva Stuckenbrock of the University of Kiel in Germany, said: “With the world’s population soaring, humanity is facing unprecedented challenges in food production.” “We already suffer massive crop losses from fungal infections each year that could feed millions of people,” he said. “This worrying trend could be exacerbated by warming.”

Farmers have already lost 10 to 23 percent of their crops to fungal diseases. Fungal infections in the five most important crops – rice, wheat, maize, soybeans and potatoes – cause food losses that could feed hundreds of millions of people each year. are generating Fungi recently moved up to the top six on a list of the most damaging pests and pathogens.

The researchers pointed out that the fungus is resilient enough to survive in soil for up to 40 years, and airborne spores can move between continents. “In the United States, you can see spores being sucked in after tornadoes pass and sailing long distances,” Ger said.

Although fungicides are widely used, fungal pathogens have the ability to rapidly evolve resistance to treatments that target only single cellular processes. The researchers say conventional fungicides and conventional breeding for disease resistance are no longer sufficient.

One solution is to plant seed mixtures with different genes to resist fungal infections instead of monocultures of a single strain. In 2022, about a quarter of wheat in Denmark was grown this way. Scientists say technology that can detect and control outbreaks early through drones and artificial intelligence could also help.

New pesticides are being developed, with recent researchers at the University of Exeter developing chemicals that target several biological processes within the fungus, making resistance much more difficult. This approach has already been shown to be useful against fungi that infect wheat, rice, maize and bananas.

Funding for fungal pathogen research is severely underfunded, compared to the UK Research and Innovation Council’s £550 million allocation for COVID-19 research between 2020 and 2022, compared to only £24 million for fungal crop research over the same period. pointed out that “If you don’t have enough to eat, you could die from malnutrition before contracting a disease like COVID-19,” said Professor Geo. said.

The paper can be found at the following link (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-01465-4).

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