Better control of fungal diseases in crops would have a huge impact on the world's ability to feed itself, a new study has found.
The study, published this month in the journal Nature and part-funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, found that fungal infections destroy at least 125 million tonnes of the world's top five food crops, which include potatoes.
Instances of fungal diseases have been increasing in severity and scale since the middle of the 20th century, largely due to trade and travel, and now pose a serious danger to global food security, biodiversity and ecosystem health, according to the report.
The authors call for tighter control of trade in plant and animal products that spread disease and more research into tools to predict emerging infections to halt the spread of diseases that are currently geographically isolated.
University of Oxford professor Sarah Gurr said: "We are woefully inadequate at controlling emergence and proliferation of fungal attack. We must have better funding channelled into the fight."
Losses On the rise
The study found that fungal agents were behind more than two-thirds of plant and animal extinctions from infectious diseases and that this rate is currently rising.
Huge losses of bats to fungal infections are estimated to cost US $3.7bn a year in lost pest control in the USA alone.
Meanwhile, trees lost to fungi also hit annual absorption of carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect, the study warned.