When a devastating plant pathogen threatened worldwide wheat production in the early 2000s, it took an integrated global scientific community to respond and safeguard wheat from a potentially catastrophic pandemic. Today the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), which formed in 2005, provides lessons about pandemics, the resilience of scientific communities, and the vigilance needed to protect food supplies all over the globe.

This year the BGRI will host a virtual conference October 6-8 with the theme “Global Resilience: Science, Pandemics, and the Future of Wheat.” The 2021 BGRI Virtual Technical Workshop will explore how nearly two decades of monitoring and responding to wheat rust epidemics can provide lessons for other global disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. Keynote speakers will draw attention to how we can apply the lessons learned from wheat research and epidemic response to other pandemic diseases facing today’s world.

The online-only event is open to all and free for registrants. 

This year’s workshop features technical sessions from leading experts at national, regional and global institutions such as Cornell University, CIMMYT, U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service, Agriculture and AgriFood Canada, Aarhus University, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization, Cambridge University and the John Innes Centre in the UK. Presenters from around the globe will lead in-depth talks and discussions on emerging challenges facing global wheat security.

“Norman Borlaug famously said that ‘rust never sleeps.’ Only through a robust and dedicated community of scientists and farmers can we defend wheat against evolving pathogens and calamitous threats,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI and international professor in Cornell’s Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science. “The BGRI community has been a tireless defender of global and local food security, and this year’s workshop will provide opportunities for wheat researchers to collaborate on solutions and prepare for the challenges ahead.”

The three-day workshop includes keynotes from leading experts and presentations focused on critical areas of wheat science:

  • Next-Gen Wheat Researchers
  • Surveillance and Forecasting Biotic and Abiotic Stresses
  • Emerging Breeding Technologies

“Pathogens continuously threaten lives and livelihoods, from plant diseases to COVID-19. Wheat researchers have been at the frontlines battling against plant disease for generations, and this is a critical moment when scientists in agriculture and human health can share and apply new models and thinking,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and research professor in Cornell’s Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science.

“The BGRI community has a strong legacy of innovation and success at the interface of science and health,” said Jeanie Borlaug Laube, chair of the BGRI. “This year’s workshop will celebrate the resilience of the community while also convening leading scientists to maintain the progress and momentum against ever-evolving plant diseases and the existential threat of climate change.”

Among this year’s planned sessions will be a showcase of the newest recipients of the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) awards. The WIT awards honor exceptional women scientists working in wheat in the early stages of their careers. The 2021 winners are among 60 women scientists who have earned the prestigious designation. At the workshop the BGRI will also announce the 2021 BGRI Gene Stewardship award winners in recognition of excellence in the development, multiplication and release of rust resistant wheat varieties that encourage diversity and complexity of resistance.

The BGRI is a community of hunger fighters dedicated to protecting the world’s wheat. The BGRI formed in 2005 in response to a novel strain of rust discovered in East Africa. Now known as Ug99, the pathogen posed global risks to wheat production. Norman Borlaug galvanized global scientists and donors to combat Ug99 and other disease pressures.

The initiative and workshop receive funding through the DGGW and Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat (AGG) projects, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

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