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Perhaps you’ve never have heard of wheat rust, but it may soon be as common a term as swine flu—and at least as worrisome.

Wheat rust has returned to threaten the breadbaskets of the world. The disease has been known about since antiquity: a fungal infection manifesting as red pustules on the stems of wheat, which destroy the plant. The spores, spread by wind, can travel up to 160km in a day, and outbreaks can decimate crop yields.

It was apt to cause havoc worldwide, until crossbreeding experiments in the 1960s created a seed stock resistant to the…

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