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A Genomic Hope for Fungus-Threatened Coffee Plants

Nature News sounds the alarm that Central American coffee plants are suffering through one of the worst-ever outbreaks of the "coffee rust" fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, which causes plants to sicken and lose their leaves.

According to the story, the plague could cut crop harvest in some of the worst hit areas in half, potentially depriving the consumers of precious fuel for their delicious, stimulating beverages.

But never fear, coffee lovers! Teams in the Americas, Brazil, Kenya, and the UK are working to isolate genes that confer resistance to the fungus so that they can breed hardier plants. Groups are also working to better understand the genome of the fungus itself, to identify different strains and develop more targeted control measures.

Nature News' Daniel Cressey writes that Colombia may be the closest nation to a solution, and a good example for struggling Central American areas. "The introduction of resistant strains, together with improved weather monitoring to help predict rust outbreaks, has meant that fewer than 10% of plants now need to be treated with fungicide, down from 60% four years ago," he says.