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Ben-Gurion University Plant Biologist Is Figuring Out How Wild Wheat Protects Itself From Insects

Wheat is a staple crop that provides 20% of the world population’s caloric and human protein intake. Although wheat is essential for human and livestock diets, these plants are continuously preyed upon by insect herbivores which often cause severe damage and result in significant losses in yield. Furthermore, the gradual increase in global temperatures has promoted the expansion of pest populations to new regions as well as their reproduction rate.

One of the most serious threats to wheat are aphids, tiny insects which suck out the wheat's nutrients and also introduce deadly plant viruses. There are about 5,000 different species of aphids all over the world.

Wild wheat has at least two defense methods against insect pests, Prof. Tzin has discovered. She studies the wild emmer wheat which has long been found in the Fertile Crescent and is a progenitor of both durum (pasta) and bread wheat.

First, wild wheat has a coating of "hairs" that prevent insects from finding a place to burrow into the stalk. This could potentially be bred back into cultivated wheat to protect it.

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