University of Cambridge > > Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars > The global movement of plant pests and pathogens: implications for food security

The global movement of plant pests and pathogens: implications for food security

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Over the past centuries, crop diseases have led to the starvation of the people, the ruination of economies and the downfall of governments. Of the various challenges, the threat to plants of fungal infection outstrips that posed by bacterial and viral diseases combined. Indeed, fungal diseases have been increasing in severity and scale since the mid 20th Century and now pose a serious threat to global food security and ecosystem health.

We face a future blighted by known adversaries, by new variants of old foes and by new diseases. Modern agricultural intensification practices have heightened the challenge – the planting of vast swathes of genetically uniform crops, guarded by one or two inbred resistance genes, and use of single target site antifungals has hastened emergence of new virulent and fungicide-resistant strains. Climate change compounds the saga as we see altered disease demographics – pathogens are on the move poleward in a warming world.

This presentation will highlight some current notable and persistent fungal diseases. It will consider the evolutionary drivers underpinning emergence of new diseases and allude to the accelerators of spread. I will set these points in the context of our recent disease modelling, which shows the global distributions of crop pathogens and their predicted movement and will discuss the concept of crop disease saturation. I shall conclude with some thoughts on future threats and challenges, on fungal disease mitigation (and present of some of our work in this area) and of ways of enhancing global food security.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars series.

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