Knowing late blight's origin could aid finding controls

06/03/2014 11:20:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

late blightCourtesy Agricultural Research ServiceThe fungal disease late blight is responsible for the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.Mexico is the origin of the late blight epidemic that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, according to new University of Florida research.

Although researchers believed the fungal disease had originated in Mexico, a 2007 study contradicted earlier findings, saying it originated in the South American Andes.

Plant pathology assistant professor Erica Goss analyzed sequenced genes from four strains of the late blight pathogen and found ancestral relations among them that did indeed point to Mexico as the origin, according to a news release.

Knowing from where the pathogen came could help with developing control measures.

“The pathogen is very good at overcoming our management strategies,” Goss said in the news release. “To come up with better solutions to late blight, we need to understand the genetic changes that allow it to become more aggressive. By understanding past changes, we can design new strategies that are more likely to be robust to future genetic changes.”

Late blight is caused by Phytophthora infestans, which not only can infect potatoes, but also tomatoes and other related crops.

It also is able to mutate, with new strains resistant to fungicides continuing to show up.

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