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Wheat infected by a stem rust: Link to photo information
A stem rust similar to the one infecting this wheat could be a major problem for many wheat varieties grown here and in the developing world. Click the image for more information about it.

ARS, Cooperators Fight New Strain of Wheat Stem Rust

By Kim Kaplan
February 1, 2006

Potential damage to African wheat from a new strain of wheat stem rust could be avoided, thanks to research that Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have shared with researchers in East Africa.

Researchers have screened U.S. wheat varieties in Kenya for resistance to Ug99, the most virulent new strain of wheat stem rust in 50 years. This could help avoid a major threat to wheat growing there and around the world.

Leaders in wheat research from ARS and other organizations met at a Global Rust Summit organized by Nobel Peace Prize winner and father of the “Green Revolution” Norman Borlaug and held in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2005, to enlist aid to address the Ug99 problem. Ug99 was first found in Uganda in 1999, but it has now spread to Kenya and Ethiopia, with the potential to seriously damage wheat production.

M. Kay Simmons, ARS national program leader for grain crops, and A. Richard Bennett, ARS national program leader for plant health, traveled to Africa to contribute to the summit.

Even before the summit took place, a partnership of ARS, the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center began testing more than 800 U.S. wheat cultivars and genetic resources in field trials in Kenya.

While most U.S. bread wheats are vulnerable, results from the Kenya evaluation revealed good sources of resistance in each class of wheat.

The assistance that has been offered to Kenya was initiated to answer the call for helping preserve wheat production in developing countries. But the research also offers basic information that ARS may need some day, should Ug99 ever appear in the United States.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.