Scientists have warned that increasing fungal infections on the most significant crops in the world pose a threat to the world’s food supply and that failure to combat fungal diseases might result in a “global health disaster.”
Already, fungi are the greatest crop thief.
They can gorge on vast crops and are quite robust. They can also travel great distances with the hold of the wind, spreading to incredible distances.
Additionally, they are very adaptable, and many have even become immune to widespread fungicides.
According to the experts, as a result of climate change, fungal diseases will continue to move gradually poleward and their effects on human health will worsen.
Fungal pathogens have been migrating to higher latitudes at a rate of roughly 7 kilometers per year ever since the 1990s.
Infections of the generally tropical wheat stem rust have previously been documented in England and Ireland.
According to researchers, more severe storms can distribute the spores farther away and higher temperatures promote the establishment of new types of these pathogens.
Co-author of the study, Prof. Sarah Gurr, said that the popular HBO series The Last of Us, in which fungus invades human brains, has lately brought fungi to the public’s notice.
“While that storyline is science fiction, we’re warning that we might see a global health catastrophe caused by this rapid global spread of fungal infections. The imminent threat here isn’t about zombies, but about global starvation,” Gurr noted.
The experts mentioned that there is a true risk that global warming would eventually increase fungi’s tolerance to high temperatures and allow them to infect warm-blooded animals, including animals.
Co-author Eva Stukenbrock also stated that “As our global population is projected to soar, humanity may be facing unprecedented challenges to food production. We are already seeing massive crop losses to fungal infection, which could have sustained millions of people each year. This worrying trend may only worsen with a warming world.”
Farmers have already lost between 10 percent and 23 percent of their harvests to fungal disease, according to the warning, which was published in an article in the scholarly magazine Nature.
Infections result in annual losses across the 5 most significant crops—rice, wheat, maize, soy, and potatoes—that might otherwise provide food for hundreds of millions.
In a recent ranking of illnesses and pests with the greatest impact, fungi were in the top 6.
According to the researchers, fungi are remarkably robust, with their airborne spores having the ability to cross continents and survive in soil for up to 40 years.
Gurr said that “After tornadoes in America, you can see the spores have been sucked up and gone on long distance voyages.”
Although fungicides are frequently employed, pathogens quickly develop resistance to medications that focus on a single cellular function.
The researchers claim that current fungicides and traditional breeding for resistance to disease are no longer sufficient.
Planting seed mixtures with a variety of genes resistant to fungus infection rather than monocultures is one possible solution.
This method was used to cultivate around 25 percent of the wheat in Denmark in 2022.
The use of drones and artificial intelligence, which enable early epidemic detection and management, may also be helpful, according to the experts.
A team of scientists from the University of Exeter has discovered molecules that might lead to herbicides that target many biological processes within the fungus, making resistance far more difficult to develop. New pesticides are being created as a result.
The method has been shown effective in combating fungi that infect wheat, rice, corn, and bananas already.
The £550 million allotted to Covid research by the UK Research and Innovation Council between 2020 and 2022 with the £24 million for fungal crop research during the same time period, according to the researchers, shows that fungal pathogen research is significantly underfunded.
“If we don’t have enough to eat, malnutrition will kill us before we get anything like Covid-19. But our [research area] is absolutely penniless compared with every medical disease you could imagine,” Gurr concluded.