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The Irish Potato Famine Fungus, Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary

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The Irish Potato Famine Fungus, Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary

The importance of the genus Phytophthora, both to humanity and to the development of the science of plant pathology, has been obvious ever since P. infestans devastated the potato crop in Western Europe in 1845. Its greatest impact was the potato blight epidemic in Ireland (Gregory 1983). In 1845 and again in 1848 a third of the potato crop was destroyed by blight, losses at the extremes of previous European experience. Even more disastrously, three-quarters of the crop failed in 1846. In all, one million people died of famine-related diseases (Clarkson 1989) and up to 1.5 million more emigrated (Alexopoulos, Mims, & Blackwell 1996).

After the initial outbreak of the disease there was a major search for the underlying cause which led to a controversy with one group attributing it to natural causes, such as the weather, and the other group saying it was caused by a fungus (Dowley 1997). Charles Montagne, a retired French army doctor, first described the fungus to a meeting of theSociety Philomatique in Paris on August 30th, 1945, naming it Botrytis infestans (Dowley 1997, Alexopoulos et al. 1996).

The German scientist Anton de Bary first coined the name Phytophthora (ôplant destroyerö) in 1876, when he described the potato late blight fungus, Phytophthora infestans, as the type species for the new genus (Zentmyer 1983). He unveiled the full life cycle of the fungus (Dowley 1997) and was the first person to conduct extensive, controlled experiments with the fungus in potato (Alexopoulos et al. 1996). The science of plant pathology was born and the fungus got its final title of Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary (Dowley 1997).

The fungus, Phytopht...

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...97. Characterization of the Phytophthora infestans population in the Columbia Basin of Oregon and Washington from 1992 to 1995. Phytopathology 87:656-660.

Oyarzun, P. J., Ordones, M. E., and Forbes, G. A. 1997. First report of Phytophthora infestans A2 mating type in Equador. Plant Dis. 81:311.

Singh, B. P., Roy, S., and Bhattacharyya, S. K. 1993. Late blight of potato. Int. J. Trop. Plant Dis. 11:17-42.

Solar, Peter M. 1997. The potato famine in Europe. In Cormac O Grada (ed.), Famine 150 commemorative lecture series, p. 113-124. Teagasc, Dublin.

Von Arx, J. A. 1987. Plant Pathogenic Fungi, p.19-24. J. Cramer, Berlin.

Zentmyer, George A. 1983. The World of Phytophthora. In Erwin, D. C., Bartnicki-Garcia, S., and Tsao, P. H. (eds.), Phytophthora : Its Biology, Taxonomy, Ecology, and Pathology, p. 1-7. American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN.

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