Dr. Edith Breburda
Madison/Wisconsin. The severe drought in the USA is the media topic. For some it seems incredible, even unethical, that the government still plans to use part of the corn harvest for the production of bio-fuels at the risk of global hunger. Many farmers are being forced to slaughter their animals because of a lack of feed. The United Nations has urged the USA to stop the ethanol production in face of the drought, to prevent elevated global food costs.
We already know that global consequences of the drought will be severe but agriculture is taking a second lethal punch. The extreme heat stress has weakened the cellular defense of 85 percent of the Midwest corn crop. This weakened state, coupled with sudden rains, has left the crop vulnerable to infection with corn smut (Ustilago maydis).
This pathogenic plant fungus causes gall formation on all above-ground parts of corn plants. Disfigured tissue develops into galls within days after infection. Most obvious are the tumor-like formation growing on corn cob.
The entire ear is sometimes replaced by the smut gall, which is filled with spore powder.
Throughout most of the world, however, corn smut is seen as a troublesome disease of corn. In 1911 when smut was first reported in Barthust, New South Wales, Australia, the infected crop was destroyed and corn was not planted on that farm for a decade.