Disease Pandemics and Major Epidemics Arising from New Encounters between Indigenous Viruses and Introduced Crops

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Virus disease pandemics and epidemics that occur in the world's staple food crops pose a major threat to global food security, especially in developing countries with tropical or subtropical climates. Moreover, this threat is escalating rapidly due to increasing difficulties in controlling virus diseases as climate change accelerates and the need to feed the burgeoning global population escalates. One of the main causes of these pandemics and epidemics is the introduction to a new continent of food crops domesticated elsewhere, and their subsequent invasion by damaging virus diseases they never encountered before. This review focusses on providing historical and up-to-date information about pandemics and major epidemics initiated by spillover of indigenous viruses from infected alternative hosts into introduced crops. This spillover requires new encounters at the managed and natural vegetation interface. The principal virus disease pandemic examples described are two (cassava mosaic, cassava brown streak) that threaten food security in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and one (tomato yellow leaf curl) doing so globally. A further example describes a virus disease pandemic threatening a major plantation crop producing a vital food export for West Africa (cacao swollen shoot). Also described are two examples of major virus disease epidemics that threaten SSA's food security (rice yellow mottle, groundnut rosette). In addition, brief accounts are provided of two major maize virus disease epidemics (maize streak in SSA, maize rough dwarf in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions), a major rice disease epidemic (rice hoja blanca in the Americas), and damaging tomato tospovirus and begomovirus disease epidemics of tomato that impair food security in different world regions. For each pandemic or major epidemic, the factors involved in driving its initial emergence, and its subsequent increase in importance and geographical distribution, are explained. Finally, clarification is provided over what needs to be done globally to achieve effective management of severe virus disease pandemics and epidemics initiated by spillover events.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1388
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2020


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