London, April 3 : Bill Gates has announced a donation of 26.8 million dollars (US) over the next three years for research into curbing a killer wheat fungus, which might cause mass starvation in India if it hits the country before new resistant strains are ready.
According to a report in New Scientist, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would give 26.8 million dollars over the next three years for research to breed new wheat strains that resist the fungus known as Ug99.
Ug99 is a strain of black stem rust, a lethal fungal disease of wheat, first detected in Uganda in 1999. Virtually, none of the commercial wheat now grown worldwide has any resistance to it.
The fungus recently invaded Iran faster than predicted and could cause mass starvation if it hits India before new resistant strains are ready.
To fight Ug99, Bill Gates would donate the large sum of money to the "Durable Rust Resistance project", which is being set up to bring researchers from 15 institutes worldwide together to track the spread of the fungus, and breed wheat with resistance based on several genes working together.
Such wheat is hoped to be less likely to be damaged by the fungus than current varieties. The project will also look for useful resistance genes in wild plants related to wheat.
"We're hoping more donors will come on board," said Katherine Kahn of the Gates Foundation. "Our concern is people like the 50 million poor families in India who depend on wheat to live," she added.