The leaf blight of rubber caused by the fungus, Microcyclus ulei, bankrupted the infamous “rubber barons” of South America in the 19th century, destroyed the economy of boom towns along the Amazon, and drove some of the investors to suicide. Today, the same disease threatens the annual production of nine million tons of natural rubber that is tapped from trees in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The rubber that is grown in Southeast Asia derives from seeds that were collected in Brazil in the 1870s by Henry Wickham. For this reason, the crop lacks genetic diversity, making it especially vulnerable to the leaf blight.
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