When Nature recently accepted a review co-authored by Sarah Gurr, the plant pathologist from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom sent the journal a self-produced image to consider for its cover. It shows a fungus looking like one of those colossal, menacing tripods from H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds, stalking through a field, with bats, frogs, and toads fleeing before it in a crazed panic. “Fungal Wars of the World,” Gurr called it.
The picture didn't make it, but many scientists agree with its message: Fungi have now become a greater global threat to crops, forests, and wild animals than ever before. They have killed countless amphibians, pushing some species to extinction, and they're threatening the food supply for billions of people. More than 125 million tons of the top five food crops—rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, and soybeans—are destroyed by fungi every year.
Like other infectious agents, fungi benefit from a combination of trends, such as increased global travel and trade, new agricultural practices, and perhaps global warming. But they have several unique features, researchers say—including the way they can switch from asexual to sexual reproduction—that enable them to exploit these opportunities particularly effectively.
Via Kamoun Lab @ TSL