Monday, June 22, 2009

Rust Never Sleeps (Ug99) - Jun 22

There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
(Matthew 24:7b-8)

Found in Uganda in 1999 - hence the name Ug99 - this virulent fungus is threatening the world's wheat supply. You can read the original article here.

Johnny Cash

In a St. Paul lab, scientists race to defeat a wheat famine 'time bomb'
By Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times
Updated: 06/20/2009 10:45:26 PM CDT

The spores arrived from Kenya on dried, infected leaves ensconced in multiple layers of envelopes.

Working inside a bio-secure greenhouse outfitted with motion detectors and surveillance cameras, government scientists at the Cereal Disease Laboratory in St. Paul suspended the fungal spores in a light mineral oil and sprayed them onto dozens of healthy wheat plants each day. After two weeks, the stalks were covered with deadly reddish blisters characteristic of the scourge known as Ug99.

Nearly all of the plants were goners.

Crop scientists fear the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80 percent of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from its home base in eastern Africa. It has jumped the Red Sea and traveled as far as Iran. Experts say it is poised to enter the breadbasket of northern India and Pakistan, and the wind inevitably will carry it to Russia, China and even North America — if it doesn't hitch a ride with people first.

"It's a time bomb," said Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis. "It moves in the air. It can move in clothing on an airplane. We know it's going to be here. It's a matter of how long it's going to take."

Although most Americans have never heard of it, Ug99 — a type of fungus called stem rust because it produces reddish-brown flakes on plant stalks — is the No. 1 threat to the world's most widely grown crop.


Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico estimates that 19 percent of the world's wheat — which provides food for 1 billion people in Asia and Africa — is in imminent danger. American breeders say $10 billion worth of wheat would be destroyed if the fungus suddenly made its way to U.S. fields.

Fear that the fungus will cause widespread damage has caused prices to spike on world wheat markets. Famine has been averted thus far, but breeders say it's only a matter of time.

"A significant humanitarian crisis is inevitable," said Rick Ward, the coordinator of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project at Cornell University. "We are at a stage where the equivalent of Hurricane Katrina is offshore and we are shoring up the dikes as fast as we can."

The solution is to develop new wheat varieties that are immune to Ug99. That's much easier said than done.


After several years of feverish work, scientists have identified a mere half-dozen genes that are immediately useful for protecting wheat from Ug99. Incorporating them into crops using conventional breeding techniques is a nine-to-12-year process that has only just begun. And that process will have to be repeated for each of the thousands of wheat varieties specially adapted to a particular region and climate.

It's a race against time that pits Ug99 against the coordinated efforts of agricultural scientists from around the world.

More than 500 million acres of wheat are planted around the world, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. "All the seed needs to change in the next few years," said Ronnie Coffman, a plant breeder who heads the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project. "It's really an enormous undertaking."

Stem rust destroyed more than 20 percent of U.S. wheat crops several times between 1917 and 1935, and losses reached nearly 9 percent twice in the 1950s. The last major outbreak, in 1962, destroyed 5.2 percent of the U.S. crop, according to Peterson, who chairs the National Wheat Improvement Committee.

The fungus was kept at bay for years by breeders who slowly and methodically incorporated different combinations of six major stem rust-resistance genes into various varieties of wheat. The breeders thought it unlikely that the rust could overcome clusters of those genes at the same time.

As an added defense, a key rust-resistance gene — known as Sr31 — was imported from a rye plant and was therefore completely unfamiliar to the invading fungus.

After several outbreak-free decades, it seemed that stem rust had been defeated for good. Nearly all the scientists who once focused on it switched to other topics, and the hunt for new resistance genes practically slowed to a crawl.

A new race, or strain, of stem rust was discovered on a wheat farm in Uganda in 1999. Scientists published a report on the fungus the following year in the journal Plant Disease.

"It didn't draw a lot of attention, frankly," said Marty Carson, research leader at the Cereal Disease Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "There's very little wheat grown in Uganda."

Researchers in Carson's lab confirmed that Ug99 — named for the country and year it was identified — had found a way to defeat Sr31. But scientists still saw little cause for concern.

Within a few years, the Ugandan stem rust had devastated farms in neighboring Kenya, where wheat is one of the biggest crops. Then it moved north to Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen.

"There was a great deal of concern," Carson said. "Rust fungi are notorious for dispersing over very far distances in the wind."


To make matters worse, the fungus is becoming more virulent as it spreads. At least one version of Ug99 can defeat all six stem-rust-resistance genes, and several variants can defeat groups of them.

Now, the pressure is on to develop wheat varieties that are impervious to Ug99.

The first step is to identify Ug99-resistance genes by finding wheat plants that can withstand the deadly fungus.

Roughly 16,000 wheat varieties and other plants have been tested in the cereal disease lab over the last four years.

The tests have been conducted between Dec. 1 and the end of February, when the Minnesota weather is so frigid that escaping spores would perish quickly, Carson said.

These and similar efforts at a research station in Kenya have turned up only a handful of promising resistance genes, which crop breeders are trying to import into vulnerable strains of wheat.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Israel, Iran and Obama - Jun 16

'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army—your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. Persia (Modern Iran - JC), Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops—the many nations with you.
(Ezekiel 38:3-6)

Something interesting has just happened in Iran. A massive presidential election has taken place with the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being returned to office. Best to wait for the dust to settle before we can properly gauge what's really going on. Here's an interview with Dr. George Friedman (CEO of Stratfor) giving his assessment of the situation.

Johnny Cash

Friday, June 12, 2009

Six Months Later - Jun 12

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Well its finally done. I went to TriOS college today to do all the necessary paperwork. My course starts on Monday with Microsoft Word for two weeks followed by Excel for another two weeks. After the Labor Day break is when I get into the heavier stuff. Should be fun!

Waiting On His Timing

I got back from my hectic morning and arrived at home just after 2:30 p.m.. I noticed the date was the 12th of the month. On December the 12th 2008 I was laid off and I also arrived home around 2:30 p.m.. 'Funny', I said to myself, 'It's exactly six months later to the exact hour and date since I lost my job to now where I've become a paralegal student.' The logic and symmetry of the moment struck me as profound.

The God of Monday Mornings is the God of Friday Afternoons

Do you remember Christmas Eve when you were a child? How much sleep did you get? Probably none! I reckon the night of the 14th will be similar. Monday morning will not be pretty!

People always say TGIF. I say 'Why wait til Friday to give Him praise?'. Giving God praise on Monday mornings may be difficult for someone like me but keep this in mind: There are unemployed people out there who will wake up Monday morning with nowhere to go. Not unlike my situation they may have just received their notice of permanent layoff despite years of loyalty. Unlike Mondays past, I'm now expected to be at an exact place at an exact time. Seen in this context, Monday morning is a blessing!

Not The End, But The End of the Beginning!

Amidst all this nervous anticipation and a frenzy of activity I noticed the receptionist picking up the phone and asking, 'How did you hear about us?'. I imagine the answer would've been 'over the internet', or 'through an employment ad'. These people were phoning in just as I was sort of coming to an end. My true end of course is 52 weeks hence! But for these people their journey was just beginning. When I was at Herzing (Yonge and Dundas) I remember overhearing a young lady who had graduated recently and was starting a new job. How excited she was! I couldn't help but be a little envious.

My point is this: If you're at the beginning, remember that others have preceded you and will help if you're willing to listen. If you find yourself coming to an end others likely will be following in your footsteps. If they come to you, help them. You were once a rookie at this! The old Christian command 'Love one another' as Jesus loved us is one that we should tirelessly promote at home, church, work and at school.

Johnny Cash

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Praise of Women - Jun 10

I got the call Thursday morning from the Ministry of Education. I'm going back to school! The tuition and books (over $13,000) and some living expenses is covered. I start on Monday, June the 15th. Later on today I have to do sign some paperwork (again!) and I have orientation at the school on Friday. I would be remiss if I didn't thank a lot of the people who helped me along the way. Most of that help came from women. I owe them all a great deal of praise.

Esther Sekyewa - Case Manager, VPI

This wonderful lady was the first one I met shortly after my layoff. She gave the orientation at VPI and was very polished and smooth. I did not see her again until the new year when she became my case manager. After our initial face to face meeting in January it was decided to do some career counseling before I could make an informed decision. Esther also took the time to check on me by way of e-mail and the occasional phone call. Without her I'd be lost.

Kalisha Merraro - Ontario Works

On a cold day in January, this young woman took the time to put together a resume that I hadn't needed in eleven years. Her patience in putting together a decent resume based on the hodge-podge of information I gave her was nothing short of a miracle. Given my recent security training and a desire to enter the legal field another resume is going to be have to be made from scratch. Thanks to Kalisha, at least now I got a template!

Ly Tran - Employment Counsellor, Humber College

This lovely young woman worked for Humber College and did a great deal of career counseling. If there was one fault I could name was that she was perhaps a bit too young for her position. Nevertheless, her patience (an absolute neccessity when dealing with me!) was her virtue. In the Humber program I learned what I'm good at (mostly everything) and what I'm poor at (manual dexterity). Thank you Ly!

P. Ellen Clarke - Admissions Registrar, Everest College (Brampton Campus)

Although I chose not to go there due to my concerns about the paralegal program, the kindness this wonderful lady showed me sticks in my heart. Now I know that private colleges are run for profit. They're in the business of education and they want to make a buck. So I was under no illusions. A cynic would suggest the sole reason that they're being nice is because they just want your money. Certainly there is a great deal of truth to that assertion. Still, what I liked about Ellen was her genuine warmth and sincerity that she exhibited towards me.

Marcie Bracker - Education Consultant, TriOS College (Mississauga Campus)

Much like Ellen, Marcie was my first point of contact at TriOS college. I met this saint of a woman near the end of January when I was still unsure of my career path. When it became obvious that TriOS was the right choice (due to proximity and length of course) for me, Marcie became even more valuable. Her kindness towards me was only matched by her professionalism towards her job.

Anna Lin (Admissions Advisor) and Ashley (Instructor)- Metro College

I had the pleasure to meet these ladies at Metro College on College Street in Toronto. I decided not to consider this college due to its downtown location. But I do have to say this: It was an ad placed in an employment paper by Metro College that got me started. I can't remember exactly how it all came about. What I do recall is the 'eureka' experience I had when I first saw the ad. 'I'd be good at that!' I remember saying to myself. Thank you for the inspiration!

Vashti - Toronto District School Board

When it became apparent that my Second Career choice was moving to its advanced stages, this woman helped me greatly in the application process. My first attempt left a little to be desired and it was decided that I needed to polish my efforts by re-applying the next day. On her lunch no less, I quickly filled out a second application that was going to be forwarded to the Ministry of Education. For her advice and for taking the time on her lunch break, I owe a debt to this woman I cannot repay.

Paula and Brandy - Star Security

Although these two women play no part in my bid to become a paralegal, it was these women who welcomed me in my first paying job after my layoff. It meant a great deal in getting my confidence back when I got my first paycheck. Thank you ladies!

What About the Guys?

Let it be said that I did receive some manly help. Thank you Tim Bulmer at Herzing College for meeting me and following up. Thank you Paul Crossley at Nighthawk Security. Your experience as a Durham cop was instructive and made quite an impression on the class you taught. Thank you also Ray Clarke and Fred Valley at Commissionaires Great Lakes for your wisdom and superb training.

Regrets? I've Had a Few!

The only darts (no laurels) I have is for those at National Workers. Your money-grabbing antics and the run-around you gave me after I completed your one-day wonder course makes you strictly Mickey Mouse. One lousy lead for $350? I don't think so!

That's it for now. I'll keep providing you with updates as my classes progress. It's a long program - 48 weeks of classes and a four week internship - so it looks like I'm going to be busy. Watch this space for further details in my paralegal quest.

Johnny Cash

Monday, June 01, 2009

Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Go To Hell - Jun 1

Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
(Matthew 10:28)

This great wondrous lie will condemn more souls to hell than any other lie conceived. Do you want to know the truth instead?

Hell Will Be Filled With Good People

For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
(Romans 10:3)

Most of the population of hell will not be populated by the likes of Clifford Olsen, Paul Bernardo or Ted Bundy. These reprobates will not even represent 10% of hell's demographics. The majority of hell's inmates will be there due to incomplete and superficial theology. Oh, they're sincere in their beliefs, make no mistake. But what good does sincerity count if you're sincerely wrong? Hell will have all kinds of folk. Devout pagans and New Agers will be there. So will Muslims, Shia and Sunni alike. Hinduists, Buddhists, Taoists and followers of other Eastern religions will be there. The superstitious, the foolish and the 'I'll get saved tomorrow!' crowd will also be well represented. The rest of hell will be mainly populated by practical atheists and fortune cookie philosophers. All 'good' people to be sure. Not one will be spared.

Heaven Will Be Populated By Sinners

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
(Psalm 18:2)

Is your head spinning yet? Does the above scripture offer a clue? Those who will be part of the Kingdom of God will have at some point in their life made a similar statement of faith just like what David made. David understood that salvation was through the grace of God alone. I'm not heavenly bound because of anything I've done. I'm heavenly bound because I believe in what Christ did for me. True salvation is 100% Christ-centered.

You Cannot Finesse Your Way Past Jesus

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. A man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
(Matthew 10:34,36)

Here's a some open questions for those aforementioned atheists and philosophers: What book other than the Bible has more influence on Western thought? Who has shown more wisdom and performed greater miracles than Jesus? What other religious founder has literally and visibly conquered the grave? You cannot 'whatever, whatever' Jesus and conveniently push Him aside. Jesus Christ is and always will be the dividing line between civilization and anarchy. He's the dividing line in our personal lives between pride and humility. All those who deny this claim are ignorant and in a state of unbelief. Jesus Christ is unavoidable. You can't outflank Him, go over or under Him. Either you accept Him or you reject Him. No exceptions! Hell or heaven awaits. Will you make the right decision?

Johnny Cash