Groups earmark $40 million for Ug99 research

by Eric Schroeder
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SEATTLE — The Department for International Development (D.F.I.D.) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are partnering in a global project to combat strains of Ug99, an evolving wheat pathogen that poses a threat to global food security.

As part of the effort, the organizations will invest $40 million in the form of a five-year grant to the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (D.R.R.W.) project at Cornell University. The D.F.I.D. is expected to contribute approximately $15 million to the project, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributing $25 million.

“We cannot overstate the importance of this for addressing the causes of poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world,” said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of the D.R.R.W. “Against the backdrop of rising food prices, and wheat in particular, researchers worldwide will be able to play an increasingly vital role in protecting wheat fields from dangerous new forms of stem rust, particularly in countries whose people can ill afford the economic impact of damage to this vital crop.”

The original Ug99 was discovered in Uganda in 1998, but also has been found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran. Monitoring systems now suggest the disease may be threatening major wheat growing areas in Southern and Eastern Africa, the Central Asian republics, the Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent, South America, Australia and North America.

The D.R.R.W. project was first funded in 2008 with a $26.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and in the past few years researchers have distributed new resistant wheat varieties for testing and evaluation in 40 countries, strengthened nurseries in Kenya and Ethiopia for screening wheat for vulnerability to rusts, and distributed nearly five tons of Ug99-resistant seed for planting in the at-risk nations of Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

“It is important that public and private institutions work together to develop long-term, sustainable and effective solutions to make life better for the world in which we live,” said David J. Skorton, president of Cornell.

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