Biology, derived from the Greek words, ‘bios’ translating to ‘life’, and ‘logos’ denoting a subject of study, is defined as the study of living organisms, for example humans. The rapidly expanding human population is faced with multiple complex and severe problems, such as diseases, which could be argued to be the biggest risk to the integrity of civilisation. Diseases can affect one’s life directly, for instance Tuberculosis, and indirectly, such as Stem Rust, which affects staple food. This essay will explore the renowned diseases mentioned above, which are researched in phytopathology and pathology. These intrinsic sectors of biology, carry out research with the aim of inventing, developing and promoting solutions for diseases, which could ultimately save the world.
Causing illness since ancient times, Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious and infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, of whose genus is hypothesised to have originated more than 150 million years ago. Egyptian mummies, from over 4,000 years ago, bear anatomical deformities synonymous with those that tuberculosis causes; mention of the disease can also be found in the Bible (1). With symptoms ranging from increasing weight loss to seizures (10), TB, which occurs as latent or active, killed 1.5 million people in 2018 (11) and is mainly prevalent in Latin America, the Caribbean Islands and Africa.
The World Health Organisation predicts that deaths caused by TB will decrease to 997,000 by 2060 (8). This would occur with the continued use of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine- first used on people in 1921- and new vaccine development efforts: research into a vaccine is largely focused on the prevention of TB in adolescents and adults because the BCG only protects infants (7). There are limitations to research, because it is unethical to infect human subjects with TB (9), but the use of animal models in trials aims to overcome this. The production and use of a successful vaccine would halt the disease’s transmission cycle, promote health, aid the vulnerable and save the world from this devastating disease.
Throughout history, many crop failures and famines can be attributed to the fungal disease Stem Rust, scientifically known as Puccinia Graminis: in 700 BC, the Romans sacrificed red animals to the rust god, ‘Robigus’, to seek protection over their grain from these red rust spores (2). Wheat, a staple crop and very susceptible host, becomes infected by the spores of the disease, develops a reddish rust, and is rendered unserviceable. Phytopathologists had subdued this fungus for many decades until a new strain of the virus emerged in Uganda in 1998 (3). Consequently, 80% of the world’s wheat crops are now at risk of being infected by this new virulent strain, already spreading into East and Southern Africa and the Middle East (3).
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Stem Rust can result in over 70 percent loss in wheat yield. James Brown, a phytopathologist, states this loss could affect food prices, inflation and economic stability (3). To combat this disease and its critical consequences, methods involving fungicides, the elimination of certain hosts and genetically resistant crops are utilised (6). The selective breeding of crops with genetic resistance is the most effective, most inexpensive and most environmentally safe means of control, but there are doubts about the durability of the resistant gene. Therefore, scientists are continually identifying and isolating the resistant crops with the aim of increasing crop yields, increasing sustainability, and lowering the threat to global food security. If these aims are achieved synchronously, there would be a reduction in hunger around the world, attributable to the preservation of staple crops vital to the survival of humanity.
The fields of pathology and phytopathology, are striving to find resolutions to the menacing, and increasing threats imposed by diseases. A new vaccine is hoping to be created to combat tuberculosis, a disease which is a threat to multitudes of people, and the cause of numerous deaths worldwide. Phytopathologists are working towards finding and utilising crops resistant to Stem Rust in selective breeding, to protect staple crops integral to humanity’s food resources and thus survival. Diseases, such as these, decrease one’s quality of life, and also jeopardise the existence of humankind, but it is not futile: solutions are being formulated. Even though more research needs to be carried out to discover the most effective treatments, there is no doubt that biology can save the world. The question now arises as to when biology will the world, and fortunately, researchers are optimistic about prospects for eradicating these diseases.