"The constant spread and evolution of agricultural pathogens provides a continually renewed source of challenges to productivity and food safety. However, research support over the last few decades has been lean and is, in fact, decreasing," says Michael Doyle of the University of Georgia, a co-author of the report. Trouble recruiting and maintaining graduate students is also harming programs and will ultimately affect the field, says Doyle. "Reversing the decline in funding and recognition of the value of agricultural research requires fundamental changes, in addition to an infusion of financial support."
Disease-causing microbes continually assault the animals and crops that humans raise for food. Some of the more famous examples include foot and mouth disease, an outbreak of which led to the slaughter of more than six million animals in England in 2001, and potato late blight, which caused the great potato famine in Ireland in the 19th Century. A new variant of the blight emerged in the United States in the 1980s causing serious losses and even bankruptcy for some potato growers.
Microorganisms continue to cause harm to the food supply beyond the farm, causing spoilage and, in some cases poisoning and disease. Additionally, the global movement of agricultural products, industrial agricultural processes and the potential for malicious release of pathogens by bioterrorists add new vulnerabilities.
In addition to the threats, microorganisms can also benefit the food supply, helping to preserve foods or acting as probiotics.