Late Blight Battle Goes Online, Marking 150 Year Struggle Since Irish Potato Famine

St. Paul, MN (March 16, 1998) -- It started with the Irish Potato Famine, and now after 150 years, plant pathologists remain persistent in their struggle to find solutions to the newest strains of the aggressive late blight fungus (Phytophthora infestans). The latest battle against this devastating fungus, however, isn't taking place in a lab or out in a potato field, instead the American Phytopathological Society (APS) is taking the late blight battle online offering a clearinghouse of the most comprehensive information available at www.scisoc.org. This interactive, educational website looks at the historical impacts of late blight, highlights key research articles, presents an online curriculum and offers links to other key late blight information.

"Plant pathologists are on the front line of this issue, warning growers and consultants of the heightened risks posed by the new strains and investigating improved management activities," says Bill Fry, plant pathologist at Cornell University and past president of APS. "Massive educational and international research efforts are essential."

Fortunately, potato isn't the sole food crop for consumers in the U.S. and Europe as it was in Ireland 150 years ago, when unsuspecting farmers planted their crops and the perfect weather conditions for the potato disease fungus arrived. What soon would become know historically as the Irish Potato Famine, was the result of the first major late blight outbreak which turned the vigorous green crops into seas of blighted, decaying vegetation in just a few weeks.

"Throughout Europe the potato crops failed," says Gail Schumann, plant pathologist at the University of Massachusetts and member of APS. According to her book, Plant Diseases: Their Biology and Social Impact, "The disaster was worst in Ireland because of the nearly complete dependence of Irish peasants on the potato for their food. The strugg

Contact: Cindy Ash, Director of Scientific Services
American Phytopathological Society

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