Blast from Past

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The plant pathogen behind the Irish potato famine of the 1840s is still around and has evolved over the years to become even more virulent. A comparison of the genetic make-up of Phytophthora infestans samples collected from Europe during the 1870s and 1880s with the modern strains shows that the two are vastly different. One gene variant was not virulent in the historic samples but it is in modern-day samples. Some of the genetic differences suggest the pathogen was brought to Europe more than once, contradicting the theory that it was introduced just once. Studying how it has changed over time can lead to better late-blight management strategies.


Down To Earth, August 2013