PROGNOSTICATING THE WORLD’S WHEAT AND BLUEGRASS

April 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

wheat_rust

In 1999, a terrifying new form of wheat stem rust disease – spotted in Uganda and dubbed “UG99” – began to destroy the world’s harvest of wheat, the staff of life, 22% of humanity’s calories. It moved from Africa up the Arabian Peninsula; now it’s threatening India and Pakistan. Next stop, China, Ukraine, France, Kansas. Breeders everywhere began searching wheat seed collections for sources of resistance. The largest collection was at the International Center for Improvement of Maize and Wheat in Mexico, developed by the brilliant Danish scientist Bent Skovmand. For three decades, Skovmand (1945-2007) collected, preserved and shared thousands of wheat varieties, becoming the central librarian for all the world’s grain breeders. 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. Can scientists like Bent Skovmand stop Ug99? Who’s protecting the world’s vital seed collections? What’s being done to guarantee food security against new plagues and global warming?
Hear the answers when agricultural science visits Cornelia Street Cafe in the person of Susie Dworkin, author of the recent The Viking in the Wheat Field. Susie will discuss how a few scientists persist in trying to save the world despite mutating pathogens, terrifying new weather and the Byzantine politics of the battle for control of world agriculture.

For our arts section, what better than the future of bluegrass, a style originally devoted to Kentucky’s grass and horses, as represented by long time friend of Cornelia Street, Frank Oteri, who in another life curates 21st Century Schizoid Music here on the 4th Monday of every month?

Frank’s group The String Messengers features Frank York on fiddle and lead vocals; Mandola Joe York on bass vocals, mandolin, mandola; Jeff York on atomic guitar; Jon York on middle fiddle, that’s a vie-oh-lah to the sophisticated folks of New York City; Uncle Murphy on additional vocals and rhythm guitar; Ratzo York (known to the outside world as Ratzo B. Harris) on the larger-than-life bass fiddle, with extra strings for good measure.

Frank and compadres will consider how Bill Monroe’s and the Stanley Brother’s legacies offer another world heritage that can be crossed to produce hybrids with the vigor to withstand the stressful artistic environments of the future.

A discussion between Susie and Frank will be mc’d by ex-blueberry breeder and current biologist / musician Dave Soldier.

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