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Free State profs help track down deadly fungus

It’s called Ug99, and it’s a stem rust fungus that threatens the global wheat supply

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The origin of a deadly wheat pathogen which threatens a vital global food source has been identified by an international team of academicresearchers, including two professors from the University of the Free State in South Africa.

First identified in Africa two decades ago, the strain of the stem rust fungus, called Ug99, was said to threaten the global wheat supply due to its ability to attack most varieties planted across the world.Rust diseases cause substantial crop losses each year. 

It was first detected in Uganda in 1998 and described in 1999 and has since given rise to an “asexual lineage” that has spread through Africa to the Middle East, causing devastating damage to wheat crops. 

Professor Zakkie Pretorius and Professor Botma Visser, researchers from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State in South Africa joined forces with the University of Minnesota, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and Australian National University, to uncover the basis of Ug99’s virulence by examining the pathogen’s genome.

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Professor Zakkie Pretorius of the University of the Free State in South Africa

They determined that the pathogen can be traced to a rarely observed phenomenon where two different rust strains fuse together and exchange intact nuclei. This is said to create a hybrid strain with a wider host range than its original parents.

“Ug99 is an imminent threat to global food security due to its wide virulence and potential ability to spread across continents and oceans to infect distant wheat crops,” said Professor Zakkie Pretorius of the University of the Free State.

Dr Melania Figueroa, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia, said: “This information will be critical for deciphering the genetic basis and evolution of rust virulence on wheat and for monitoring the global movements of the pathogen.” 

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Professor Botma Visser of the University of the Free State

                 Why is this discovery important?

Dr Figueroa explained why the discovery is important: “The more you know your enemy, the more equipped you are to fight against it. Knowing how these pathogens came about means we can better predict how they are likely to change in the future. This discovery also means that we can better identify the resistance genes, which can be bred into wheat varieties to give crops long-lasting protection against rust.”

Dr Feng Li of the University of Minnesota, and joint first author on the study, said: “As plant scientists, we are always looking for an advantage over stem rust in order to develop more durably resistant crops. The data obtained from this study will provide us with new insights on how Ug99 emerged to threaten wheat across the world.”

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Professor Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State

Professor Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, said: “At the UFS we are always delighted when our academics make an impact that improves life for people. This latest discovery has the potential to prevent a devastating impact on the world’s food supply. A problem first recognised in Africa 20 years ago has found part of the solution at an African University.”

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Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving

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For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit www.pingloud.com

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Coronavirus to hit 5G

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Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
5G19199
Rest of Market13941165
Total14131364
 
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
5G1%15%
Rest of Market99%85%
Total100%100%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/wep83gc.

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