Wheat-Killing Fungus Destroys Entire Fields

Ug99, a dangerous fungus that can destroy entire fields of wheat, has been detected in Iran, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The wheat stem rust spores are carried by the wind across continents. Ug99 first appeared in Uganda and quickly spread to Kenya and Ethiopia last year; both countries suffered serious crop yield losses in 2007.

The same strain has now appeared in Iran; Shivaj Pandley, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, warns “The fungus is spreading rapidly and could seriously lower wheat production in countries at direct risk.”

This story is uncomfortably close to the main premise of The Death of Grass, a 1956 novel by British author John Christopher (Samuel Youd). The novel was published in the U.S. as No Blade of Grass.

In the story, a viral strain has attacked rice crops in East Asia; mutations of this virus also threaten wheat and barley in Europe and West Asia. The problem is believed to have arisen due to industrial contaminants in the soil and in the air.

The story was made into a film; the movie No Blade of Grass was released by MGM in 1970. The first few minutes of the film are shown in the video below.


(Video excerpt from No Blade of Grass)

Early in the film, a news program is playing on a television in the corner of a pub; people in Britain gorge themselves while the news plays on.

"...a major historical catastrophe. The epidemic of grass disease has spread to Africa and parts of South America. All parts of the grass family, wheat, barley, rye etc. are affected..."

Story via UN News Centre; thanks to Vik for the tip on the real story and the science-fictional predecessor.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/16/2008)

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