The Viking in the Wheat Field (eBook)
In 1999, a terrifying new form of stem rust--spotted in Uganda and dubbed "UG99"--quickly turned robust golden fields into dark, tangled ruins. For decades plant scientists had bred wheat varieties with rust-resistant genes, but these genes did not work against UG99. Since rust migrates high in the atmosphere, it could spread from country to country, continent to continent. Breeders worried that UG99 would soon reach India and Pakistan, where 50 million small farmers produced 20% of the global wheat supply. If that happened, China, the world's largest wheat producer, might be next, and it would be only a matter of time before it reached American wheat fields.
Breeders everywhere began searching wheat germplasm collections for sources of resistance. The largest collection was at the Center for Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) in Mexico, developed by the brilliant Danish scientist Bent Skovmand. For three decades, Skovmand amassed, multiplied, and documented thousands of wheat varieties. He served as an advisor on wheat genetic resources to dozens of countries, and hunted for seeds that would contain the genes to protect the harvest from plagues like UG99 and the stresses of global warming.From the mountains of Tibet to the jungles of Mexico, he trekked into fields to consult with farmers. In an era when corporations and governments often jealously guarded breeding information, Skovmand fought to keep his seed bank a center for free, open scientific exchange.
By telling the story of Skovmand's work and that of his colleagues, The Viking in the Wheat Field sheds a welcome light on an agricultural sector--plant genetic resources--on which we are all crucially dependent.
About the Author
Susan Dworkin has written several biographies, including The Nazi Officer's Wife (with Edith Hahn Beer), and her articles have appeared in numerous magazines.
Praise for The Viking in the Wheat Field…
“In vivid language, Dworkin presents Skovmand’s legacy as ample reason for a new generation of genetic researchers to take the cause.”—Kirkus Reviews
“An eye-opening look into the little-known world of gene banks and crop breeding, and a poignant reminder that the real guardians of our food security are not armies or transnational corporations, but a handful of tireless scientists who have labored for decades to keep us one step ahead of famine.”— Rowan Jacobsen, author of Fruitless Fall and The Living Shore
“Susan Dworkin has found a delightful way to tell the alarming story of the fragility of the global wheat crop. She leads us expertly and enthusiastically into Bent Skovmand's strange, infrequently penetrated domain of plant breeding and international seed banks, a world in which unsung scientists search and save exotic plant germplasm to protect the staffs of life against pests, plagues and corporate raiders. As the Viking himself warns in Dworkin's book, ‘If the seeds disappear, so could your food. So could you.’”—Peter Pringle, author of Food Inc., Mendel to Monsanto—The Promises and Perils of the Biotech Harvest, and The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov
“Thanks to Bent Skovmand and scientists of his ilk, most of us take it for granted that there will be food on table when needed. The Viking in the Wheat Field is about the importance of protecting nature and its biodiversity, and improving the seeds available to us, so that 3 billion more people may eat 40 years from now.”—Per Pinstrup-Andersen, H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University