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This past Monday my friend and colleague Paul Guinnessy and I attended a press viewing of Interstellar two days ahead of the movie's US release. Paul's review appears today elsewhere on Physics Today's website. Here, I'd like to discuss the plot element that motivates the movie: the impending doom of humanity brought about by blights that destroy the world's food crops one by one.

As end-of-the-world scenarios go, agricultural collapse is not entirely implausible. In the 1840s the microorganism Phytophthora infestans devastated Europe's potato harvests. More than one million people died of starvation; 90% of the victims were in Ireland. In 1943 the fungus Helminthosporium oryzae precipitated a famine in the Indian state of Bengal that killed 3 million people. And the amount of the world's rice harvest lost annually to rice blast fungus, which arrived in the US eight years ago, could feed 60 million people.

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