'Devastating' Fungal Infections Wiping Out Crops and Threatening Global Food Security, Experts Warn
Published:12 May2023    Source:University of Exeter
Scientists have warned of the "devastating" impact that fungal disease in crops will have on global food supply unless agencies across the world come together to find new ways to combat infection.
Worldwide, growers lose between 10 and 23 per cent of their crops to fungal infection each year, despite widespread use of antifungals. An additional 10-20 per cent is lost post harvest[GS1] . In a commentary in Nature, academics predict those figures will worsen as global warming means fungal infections are steadily moving polewards[GS2] [GS3] [GS4] [VL5] , meaning more countries are likely to see a higher prevalence of fungal infections damaging harvests*. Growers have already reported wheat stem rust infections -- which normally occur in the tropics -- in Ireland and England. The experts also warn that tolerance to higher temperatures in fungi could increase the likelihood of opportunistic soil-dwelling pathogens to hop hosts, and infect animals or humans.
Professor Sarah Gurr, Chair in Food Security at the University of Exeter, co-authored the report. She said fungi had recently attracted attention through popular hit TV show The Last of Us, in which fungi take over human brains. She said: "While the storyline is science fiction, we are warning that we could see a global health catastrophe caused by the rapid global spread of fungal infections as they develop increasing resistance in a warming world. The imminent threat here is not about 'zombies,' but about global starvation."

Across the world, food security is expected to encounter unprecedented challenges as rising populations mean more demand. Across the five most important calorie crops of rice, wheat, maize (corn), soya beans and potatoes, infections cause losses which equate to enough food to provide some 600 million to 4 billion people with 2,000 calories every day for one year.