It's difficult to imagine the farmers going on strike, but that's exactly
what they threatened to do after the 1916 wheat rust epidemic. Unless Ottawa
provided research money and scientists to find a method of getting rid of rust
fungus, the farmers said they would stop growing wheat. Canadian farmers lost
between $5 million and $10 million dollars every year to rust, with the figure
going up to $200 million in a bad year like 1916. Despite its economic
importance, even the most basic understanding of the wheat rust organism had
eluded plant researchers.
I didn't intend on becoming a famous plant pathologist an expert in plant
diseases. If you would like to know more about my early life and education
I would be happy to discuss that too, but my real interest is wheat rust.
When I was still an undergraduate at McGill, I made an important discovery
that, for the first time, shed some light on this mysterious disease. This
discovery launched my career, and I went on to devote myself to unravelling the
complex nature of the wheat rust life cycle. I became, eventually, an
international authority on rusts, and was invited to speak to scientists all
over the world.
As a result of the research carried out by me and my colleagues, wheat rust
is no longer a significant problem. Unfortunately, all those years of intensive
work with rust spores damaged my lungs beyond repair. Researchers now understand
the hazards of working with rust spores and wear filtration masks to protect
themselves, but when I began my work we knew nothing of this. Would I do it all
again? Yes, without even a hesitation