Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Extracted DNA May Reveal Cause Of Great Irish Potato Famine

Date:
March 2, 2000
Source:
North Carolina State University
Summary:
One of modern science's most baffling mysteries may soon be solved by a North Carolina State University scientist and the tiny fragments of DNA she's extracting from dried potato leaves. Dr. Jean Beagle Ristaino has extracted strands of DNA from potato leaves preserved from the great Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

One of modern science's most baffling mysteries may soon be solved by a North Carolina State University scientist and the tiny fragments of DNA she's extracting from dried potato leaves.

Dr. Jean Beagle Ristaino has extracted strands of DNA from potato leaves preserved from the great Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

Using molecular tools only recently available, Ristaino, a professor of plant pathology at NC State, has decyphered a fragment of DNA she's collected from blighted leaves stored as specimens at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, and other famous herbariums.

Her findings should help historians and epidemiologists identify, once and for all, the source of the potato late blight pathogen that decimated Irish potato harvests from 1845 to 1849, killing more than 1 million people and forcing several million more to flee the island nation.

Ristaino made a poster presentation about her findings at the 2000 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., last week. This is the first time a disease pathogen has been identified using DNA from a dried plant sample.

"There are so many unsolved mysteries this DNA should finally help us answer," she says. "Where did the late blight pathogen originate? How did it spread around the world? How has it evolved over the past 150 years? Are its new genotypes, or genetic forms, different from the old ones?"

The answers to those questions have more than just historical significance, she says, because the modern form of the late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, is still wiping out potato crops worldwide today, despite modern fungicides and biosafety measures. Outbreaks occur each year in Mexico, Ireland, Ecuador, North Carolina and other potato growing regions of the United States.

"Ultimately, if we can learn how the late blight pathogen has evolved, we can develop new control measures that could help eradicate future outbreaks," Ristaino says.

To conduct her research, Ristaino extracted and amplified ribosomal DNA fragments, 100 base pairs long, from 20 blighted potato leaf specimens. The amplified DNA from the eight oldest specimens known to be infected with the late blight pathogen was sequenced, allowing Ristaino to identify for sure that the pathogen involved was late blight. Next, she plans to identify its genotype and track its historic route of migration around the world.

She has devised new diagnostic tools, using recombinant DNA techniques, that allow more rapid and accurate detection of the pathogen's presence in potatoes before they are stored or planted. NC State has been issued a patent on Ristaino's technique.

Her research collaborators are Greg Parra of NC State and Dr. Carol Trout Groves, a former NC State postdoctoral fellow now at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's New England Plant, Soil and Water Laboratory in Orono, Maine. Their study is funded in part by the National Geographic Society.

Potatoes are one of the world's four leading food crops, along with rice, maize and wheat. Late blight poses an especially great threat to potatoes in developing countries, where control measures may be too costly to use.

"This research opens a window to the past," Ristaino says. "We're excited about our results and believe these kinds of studies of epidemics could be constructed for a range of plant pathogens."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

North Carolina State University. "Extracted DNA May Reveal Cause Of Great Irish Potato Famine." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 March 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000302071115.htm>.
North Carolina State University. (2000, March 2). Extracted DNA May Reveal Cause Of Great Irish Potato Famine. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000302071115.htm
North Carolina State University. "Extracted DNA May Reveal Cause Of Great Irish Potato Famine." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000302071115.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins