North Carolina State University plant pathologist Jean Beagle Ristaino shocked the scientific world when she published a paper in the journal Nature that called into question the then-prevailing theories about the strain of pathogen – and its place of origin – that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s.
Specimen of potato infected with Phytophthora infestans collected by John Lindley in 1846 at the Royal Botanic Garden, Dublin, Ireland.
Using DNA fingerprinting analysis of 150-year-old leaves – evidence that had not previously been studied – Ristaino ruled out the longtime prime suspect behind the famine: the Ib haplotype, or strain, of the late-blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans, which was presumed to have originated in Mexico.
Now, in a new study, Ristaino and postdoctoral student Kim May point the finger at the Ia strain of P. infestans, and trace its probable roots to the Andes Mountains in South America.
Mick Kulikowski, | NC State University
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