Threats to global food security from emerging fungal and oomycete crop pathogens



Emerging fungal and oomycete pathogens infect staple calorie crops and economically important commodity crops, thereby posing a significant risk to global food security. Our current agricultural systems — with emphasis on intensive monoculture practices — and globalized markets drive the emergence and spread of new pathogens and problematic traits, such as fungicide resistance. Climate change further promotes the emergence of pathogens on new crops and in new places. Here we review the factors affecting the introduction and spread of pathogens and current disease control strategies, illustrating these with the historic example of the Irish potato famine and contemporary examples of soybean rust, wheat blast and blotch, banana wilt and cassava root rot. Our Review looks to the future, summarizing what we see as the main challenges and knowledge gaps, and highlighting the direction that research must take to face the challenge of emerging crop pathogens.

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Fig. 1: Anthropogenic effects that impact the disease triangle.
Fig. 2: Spread of F. oxysporum f. sp. cubense TR4 throughout global banana-growing regions.
Fig. 3: National changes in cropping diversity.
Fig. 4: Parameterizing the disease triangle in evolutionary time.

Change history

  • 06 July 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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S.J.G. is a CIFAR Fellow in the Fungal Kingdom: Opportunities and Threats programme. This work was funded in part by GFS/BBSRC grant no. BB/N020847/1 (awarded to D.B., S.G. and G.S.) and BBSRC grant no. BB/PO18335 (awarded to G.S. and S.G.) and BBSRC doctoral studentship BB/M009122/1 to T.C.

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H.F. wrote the paper with S.G. H.F. made Figs. 1, 3 and 4 and Tables 1 and 2; G.S. made Fig. 2. D.B. carried out data analyses. W.K., T.C., D.B. and G.S. contributed to the writing of the paper. All authors proofread and approved the submitted work.

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Correspondence to Helen N. Fones or Sarah J. Gurr.

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Fones, H.N., Bebber, D.P., Chaloner, T.M. et al. Threats to global food security from emerging fungal and oomycete crop pathogens. Nat Food 1, 332–342 (2020).

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