Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Whodunnit' of Irish potato famine solved

Date:
May 21, 2013
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
An international team of scientists reveals that a unique strain of potato blight they call HERB-1 triggered the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century.

A potato specimen from the Kew Garden herbarium, collected in 1847, during the height of the Irish famine. The legend reads “Botrytis infestans”, because it was not known yet that Phytophthora does not belong to the mildew causing Botrytis fungi.
Credit: © Marco Thines/Senckenberg Gesellschaft fόr Naturforschung

An international team of scientists reveals that a unique strain of potato blight they call HERB-1 triggered the Irish potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century.

Related Articles


It is the first time scientists have decoded the genome of a plant pathogen and its plant host from dried herbarium samples. This opens up a new area of research to understand how pathogens evolve and how human activity impacts the spread of plant disease.

Phytophthora infestans changed the course of history. Even today, the Irish population has still not recovered to pre-famine levels. "We have finally discovered the identity of the exact strain that caused all this havoc," says Hernαn Burbano from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.

For research to be published in eLife, a team of molecular biologists from Europe and the US reconstructed the spread of the potato blight pathogen from dried plants. Although these were 170 to 120 years old, they were found to have many intact pieces of DNA.

"Herbaria represent a rich and untapped source from which we can learn a tremendous amount about the historical distribution of plants and their pests -- and also about the history of the people who grew these plants," according to Kentaro Yoshida from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.

The researchers examined the historical spread of the fungus-like oomycete Phytophthora infestans, known as the Irish potato famine pathogen. A strain called US-1 was long thought to have been the cause of the fatal outbreak. The current study concludes that a strain new to science was responsible. While more closely related to the US-1 strain than to other modern strains, it is unique. "Both strains seem to have separated from each other only years before the first major outbreak in Europe," says Burbano.

The researchers compared the historic samples with modern strains from Europe, Africa and the Americas as well as two closely related Phytophthora species. The scientists were able to estimate with confidence when the various Phytophthora strains diverged from each other during evolutionary time. The HERB-1 strain of Phytophthora infestans likely emerged in the early 1800s and continued its global conquest throughout the 19th century. Only in the twentieth century, after new potato varieties were introduced, was HERB-1 replaced by another Phytophthora infestans strain, US-1.

The scientists found several connections with historic events. The first contact between Europeans and Americans in Mexico in the sixteenth century coincides with a remarkable increase in the genetic diversity of Phytophthora. The social upheaval during that time may have led to a spread of the pathogen from its center of origin in Toluca Valley, Mexico. This in turn would have accelerated its evolution.

The international team came to these conclusions after deciphering the entire genomes of 11 historical samples of Phytophthora infestans from potato leaves collected over more than 50 years. These came from Ireland, the UK, Europe and North America and had been preserved in the herbaria of the Botanical State Collection Munich and the Kew Gardens in London.

"Both herbaria placed a great deal of confidence in our abilities and were very generous in providing the dried plants," said Marco Thines from the Senckenberg Museum and Goethe University in Frankfurt, one of the co-authors of this study. "The degree of DNA preservation in the herbarium samples really surprised us," adds Johannes Krause from the University of Tόbingen, another co-author. Because of the remarkable DNA quality and quantity in the herbarium samples, the research team could evaluate the entire genome of Phytophthora infestans and its host, the potato, within just a few weeks.

Crop breeding methods may impact on the evolution of pathogens. This study directly documents the effect of plant breeding on the genetic makeup of a pathogen. "Perhaps this strain became extinct when the first resistant potato varieties were bred at the beginning of the twentieth century," speculates Yoshida. "What is for certain is that these findings will greatly help us to understand the dynamics of emerging pathogens. This type of work paves the way for the discovery of many more treasures of knowledge hidden in herbaria."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kentaro Yoshida et al. Rise and fall of the Phytophthora infestans lineage that triggered the Irish potato famine. eLife, 2013 DOI: 10.7554/elife.00731

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "'Whodunnit' of Irish potato famine solved." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130521011232.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2013, May 21). 'Whodunnit' of Irish potato famine solved. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130521011232.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "'Whodunnit' of Irish potato famine solved." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130521011232.htm (accessed November 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pygmy Marmoset Getting a Toothbrush Massage Is the Cutest

Pygmy Marmoset Getting a Toothbrush Massage Is the Cutest

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) — This rescued pygmy marmoset named Ninita is obsessed with her toothbrush. It's cuteness overload, and Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the amazing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Are Chocolate Makers So Worried?

Why Are Chocolate Makers So Worried?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Nov. 19, 2014) — Two big chocolate producers are warning the popular treat could run out by 2020 because people are eating it faster than farmers can grow cocoa. Ciara Lee reports Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Hamster Eating Thanksgiving Meal Breaks the Internet

Tiny Hamster Eating Thanksgiving Meal Breaks the Internet

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) — A tiny hamster and a bunny and rat enjoy a tiny Thanksgiving meal where they stuff themselves to the brim. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the cute video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Giant Panda at Toronto Zoo Loves Somersaulting in the Snow

Giant Panda at Toronto Zoo Loves Somersaulting in the Snow

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) — A giant panda at the Toronto Zoo named Da Mao is celebrating the northeast snowfall by playing and tumbling in the snow in his outdoor enclosure. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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