2Blades Foundation Newsletter
Issue 10 | January 2020
Did you know that the Food and Agriculture Organization has recognized 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health ? This global event emphasizes disease prevention and crop protection, two important approaches to minimizing losses. A third approach to fighting disease is to develop resistant varieties, the aim we serve at 2Blades. So on the second day of 2020 I was glad to see this prominent sign at a local, recently remodeled, Peet's Coffee, acknowledging the present challenges to plants and pledging efforts to make resilient varieties that benefit consumers and growers.
Bringing greater awareness about the impacts of plant diseases into the mainstream in 2020 will lead to more support for solutions from better management, crop protection, and genetic resistance. We're delighted to have recently added experienced team members and contributed new results, as detailed below, so we can make it happen.

Diana Horvath
New 2Blades Video

Steven Oruku Kasamani is a Kenyan farmer who grows corn to eat—and tomatoes, soybeans, and kale for market. A new 2Blades video shows him working with his family, weeding his tomatoes, which he says are “a good crop” because you can grow it “even on a small piece of land” and “the (financial) returns are high.”

Yet Steven is dismayed as he notices bacterial wilt affecting his tomato plants, as they “are drying up one by one.” His solution is to apply chemical fungicides, but he says, “normally they are not very effective.” Steven says seeing his tomato plants withering “is a bit saddening, because I targeted this market” to increase the family’s income and security.

"if we get resistant varieties, we shall have higher yields.
If I don’t farm, my children won’t go to school and we won’t eat."
Kenyan farmer Steven Kasamani
Steven’s children are in secondary school, and he is also supporting his sister’s children and an orphan—a total of seven children who rely on his crops, both as food and as market products. “This is our employment. If I don’t farm my children won’t go to school, and we won’t eat,” he says.

While he has struggled, he is trying to learn from local trainers about agricultural innovations that could increase his yields and help support his family. “I am one of those who have benefited from learning about crop disease and agronomy,” he says.

Steven says he loves tending to his crops and that people will often find him in his fields.
“There is no small-scale farmer who is not farming. Even if it’s a small vegetable plot it will get to market,” Steven says. “They are the ones feeding the nation. So, it would be for the best if organizations and companies targeted small-scale farmers.”

“Those who produce little because of the effect of diseases want higher prices so they can break even. So, if we get resistant varieties, we shall have higher yields,” he said.

2Blades undertook these and other videos and interviews to help bring crop diseases and their impacts to life. View more at Out Here in the Field
Crop disease in the headlines

Ug99 Mystery Solved: Wheat Rust Origin Discovered

An international team of scientists at Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO), the University of Minnesota, University of the Free State in South Africa, and Australian National University have solved a 20-year-old mystery, uncovering the origins of the world’s most devastating strain of cereal rust disease.
Photo credit: Yue Jin (USDA-ARS Image Number K11192-1, Public Domain)

Wheat stem rust can lead to outbreaks on wheat of epidemic proportions and therefore is capable of threatening the world’s food supply. However, for decades this disease problem was considered solved by genetic resistance bred into wheat during the Green Revolution.

In 1998, scientists were alarmed when they discovered a strain in Uganda that overcomes these resistances. Dubbed Ug99, this strain has the potential to devastate wheat crops in major wheat growing regions of the world, as there are few sources of resistance in current wheat varieties. Despite the importance and potential impact of the disease we knew surprisingly little about the fungus that causes it, but the mystery of its origin is now solved. See research published recently in Nature Communications and read the story of this 2Blades-supported effort at 2Blades.org here .
Complete genome assembled for devastating soybean pathogen

An international research collaboration has successfully assembled the complete genome sequence of the pathogen that causes the devastating disease Asian soybean rust. The research development marks a critical step in addressing the threat of the genetically complex and highly adaptive fungus Phakopsora pachyrhizi which has one of the largest genomes of all plant pathogens. Asian soybean rust has a devastating impact on soybean, an internationally important crop with 346 million tons produced globally.

In conditions favorable to its spread, the rust can destroy up to 90% of the soybean harvest. At present soybean growers in major areas of cultivation such as Latin America must use chemicals to protect crops. The largest producer of soybean is Brazil, where the combined cost of losses and disease control measures is US $2 billion per season.
Photo Credit: University of Kentucky Dept. of Plant and Soil Sciences

“Asian soybean rust is a critical challenge for soybean growers,” said Dr. Peter van Esse, leader of the 2Blades Group at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich , one of the collaborators. “A chromosome-level genome assembly allows the scientific community to study, in unprecedented resolution, components of the pathogen that are critical for causing disease. This is a critical first step towards the design of transformative control strategies to combat this highly damaging pathogen.”

The three soybean rust genomes will be hosted by the Joint Genome Institute and are available here – https://mycocosm.jgi.doe.gov/Phapa1 . Read this article at 2Blades.org here .
New Blades!

Alesha Miller , a new 2Blades Sustainability Council Member, now serves as a Non-resident Fellow for the Global Food and Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She also advises a social impact technology startup, and is an independent consultant and public speaker on food and agriculture.

Mike Kelleher is 2Blades' new Director of External Affairs. He recently left the World Bank Group’s office of UN Relations, and previously he was Senior Speechwriter for World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and an Advisor to the U.S. Executive Director of the World Bank.
Global Impacts of Crop Disease Featured in Podcast

Diana Horvath , 2Blades Foundation President and Director , talked about the high human and economic costs of plant disease in a podcast hosted by Cameron J. English , GLP Senior Agricultural Genetics Editor. The pair discussed how plant disease destroys 15 percent of all food grown globally, a loss of roughly  $220 billion annually , according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and farmers spent  $14 billion on pesticides to protect their crops, but with only partial success. Diseases like wheat stem rust can cut crop yields by as much  as 70 percent , jeopardizing the food security of people all around the world, and others such as citrus canker threaten to grind Florida’s  $9 billion citrus industry  to a halt. 
Upcoming Events
Connect with 2Blades at these upcoming events:

Foster Our Future 2020 , Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research , Wednesday, February 5, 2020 , Washington, DC, to discuss agriculture research, technology, and innovation and its impacts on consumers and producers.

Global Food Security Symposium , Chicago Council on Global Affairs , March 26, 2020 , Washington DC to discuss US government and international community’s progress on addressing the problem of food insecurity.
About 2Blades
The 2Blades Foundation, based in Evanston, Illinois, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the discovery, advancement, and delivery of durable disease resistance in crops. 2Blades establishes and manages development programs addressing significant unsolved crop disease problems, working in collaboration with leading research institutions around the world and at the 2Blades Group in The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK. 2Blades manages a portfolio of specific traits and enabling technologies that it implements in its own programs and out-licenses for broad use.
Discovering, advancing, and delivering durable genetic resistance to crop disease