The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist's Struggle to Preserve the World's Harvest [NOOK Book]

Overview


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 ...
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The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist's Struggle to Preserve the World's Harvest

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Overview


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.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Illuminating biography of Bent Skovmand (1945-2007), a prescient Scandinavian scientist who devoted his career to amassing, categorizing and genetically developing a global seed bank that could save the world from famine. Journalist Dworkin (The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, 2000, etc.) frames the story of Skovmand's life with the 1999 outbreak of a new strain of stem rust, "Ug99," which decimated fields across the globe. Ug99 demonstrated to farmers and researchers everywhere the importance of "plant genetic resources," Skovmand's life work. Developments in cross-breeding and selective gene modification enable geneticists to create varieties of seeds that have built-in resistance to biological predators. When a strain like Ug99 emerges, researchers turn to germplasm, or seed, collections-like the one at the Center for Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) in Mexico, where Skovmand worked for close to 30 years-to find the one genetic variation that is capable of resisting it. Then they breed it and provide it to farmers worldwide. Isolating the exact kind of wheat that contains the specific gene required is painstaking work that requires patience, persistence and total dedication. Skovmand possesses these qualities in abundance, and with a fiery passion for feeding the world's hungry, he was an able advocate and technician. He worked tirelessly against the encroaching bureaucracy for fieldwork funding and a free global exchange of ideas and seeds. But years passed without a protected and inventoried global germplasm collection, and local collections in Iraq, Syria, Mexico and elsewhere were compromised by a lack of resources, war or natural disaster.Not until recently did the political community admit the need for a global seed bank, and in February 2008 the Svalbard Doomsday Vault opened in northern Norway, housing millions of carefully protected seeds. In vivid language, Dworkin presents Skovmand's legacy as ample reason for a new generation of genetic researchers to take the cause. Agent: Robert Levine/Levine Plotkin & Menin
From the Publisher
“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

 

 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802719775
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 11/17/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 895,857
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Susan Dworkin worked briefly for the United States Department of Agriculture during the Kennedy Administration before becoming a journalist, covering foreign aid projects in Iran and Israel. She went on to a career writing social history through the biographies of Bess Myerson, Edith Hahn Beer, and others, but she never lost her fascination for agriculture and its love-hate relationship with technology. For ten years she was a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine and has been a frequent contributor to Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and other national publications.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: What It Takes to Beat a Plague 1

1 The Expedition to America 12

2 The Heirs of Borlaug 26

3 The Marriage of Wheat and Rye 44

4 Where the Wheat Begins 63

5 Save Everything! 84

6 The Proactive Gene Bank 101

7 The Slippery Seeds of Tibet 117

8 An Array of Tools 128

9 Hamlet and Mercutio 150

10 Dracula 169

11 The Pea Under the Princess 179

Epilogue 196

Acknowledgments 202

Appendix A Important Collections of Wheat, Rye, Triticale, and Related Species, Worldwide 204

Appendix B U.S. National Plant Germplasm System 207

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 14, 2011

    What's up with the price? Way cheaper at Amazon!

    Price at B&N Amazon
    paperback $11.86 $8.22
    ebook $14.30 $2.73

    It's no wonder readers get outraged at the ebooks when they are quite a bit more expensive than the paperback, and the equivalent Amazon books. While it sounds like an interesting book, the Nookbook price is a real turn-off.

    5 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 4, 2013

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