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When it comes to plant diseases and the effect it can have on the human race. There is one period in history that springs to mind. In the 1840’s, a fungus with the ability to destroy many plants caused the death of approximately 1 million Irishmen and women, almost one-eighth of the population, and resulted in the emigration of a further 2 million.

The reason for one of the most catastrophic episodes in the emerald isles history was the Irish Potato Famine, a result of Potato blight destroying vast amounts of potato crops. Potato blight is caused by the oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans and continues to be one of the most economically destructive diseases of global potato crops.

Now over 160 years later research conducted by North Carolina State University in the USA has resulted in a greater understanding of the origins of how the Phytophthora Infestans pathogen came to cause such devastation in Ireland in the 1840’s.

Reported in the Journal PLOS One the authors (Amanda C. Saville, Michael D. Martin, Jean B. Ristaino) of the study reported that the pathogen arrived in Europe via infected potatoes on South American ships or directly from infected potatoes from the United States.

The research examined the relationships and source of disease outbreaks in the 19th Century using herbarium specimens of Phytophthora infestans from historic and more recent isolates. They discovered that a unique SSR multilocus genotype caused outbreaks in both the USA and Europe and the lineage shared allelic diversity and grouped with the oldest specimens collected in Colombia and Central America.

The research paper can be read in more detail here http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0168381

Our Phytophthora rapid test goes some way to halting the effects of the ‘plant destroyer’. Taking only minutes to produce results our test can detect Phytophthora in the field quickly, thus alerting growers to its presence and therefore allowing for disease management protocol to be taken in order to try stopping it spreading and devastating crops and neighbouring plants.

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