Culprit in Irish Potato Famine Finally Discovered
Potato blight strain HERB-1 now apparently extinct
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted May 21, 2013 7:32 AM CDT
Updated May 25, 2013 1:27 PM CDT
An 1847 painting by Daniel MacDonald, titled "Irish Peasant Children."   (AP Photo/Quinnipiac University)

(Newser) – Nearly two centuries later, researchers believe they have identified the pathogen that led to Ireland's deadly potato famine. To make their discovery, British, German, and American scientists sequenced DNA from samples of dried potato leaves collected between 120 and 170 years ago, reports PhysOrg. They identified the particular strain of Phytophthora infestans in samples dating to 1845, the year the pathogen arrived in Ireland, then compared the genetic information to that of today's plants, the BBC reports.

As PhysOrg explains, researchers had previously believed US-1, today's major pathogen, was the culprit. Instead, they found that a new strain, dubbed HERB-1, triggered the outbreak. Scientists believe HERB-1 appeared at the beginning of the 19th century and wasn't replaced by US-1 until the 20th century, when new potato varieties were planted. ("We can't be sure but most likely [HERB-1 has] gone extinct," says one scientist.) Besides solving a 168-year-old mystery, the find has big implications: It marks the first time the genome of a plant pathogen has been decoded using dried, preserved plant specimens, and paves the way for similar research in the future.

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Showing 3 of 55 comments
julianpenrod
May 25, 2013 10:32 PM CDT
P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } The title is misleading. They may have discovered what caused such a blight, but they do not explain what caused the famine! There were always many sources of food available! Turnips were also always a part of the food there, and they weren't affected. They raised cattle, goats and sheep. Meat and cheese were also always available. In the same way, bread, game birds, fish from lakes and streams and the ocean that surrounded the island of Ireland entirely could have fed the people! There is absolutely no excuse for a famine!
HMD-SMD-ITY
May 25, 2013 4:08 PM CDT
So what does McDonalds, Wendy's, KFC, Arby's, Burger King, and all the french fry distributors want exclusively from the western farmers? The Yukon Gold variety. The farmers all grow it because it yields the best candidate for the price point and flavor targets. So are we ripe for a fungal potato crisis? According to many "experts" we are. Can you live without your french fry? Might think about it. Some interesting things about the Irish famine is that the Muslims wanted to help Ireland and the Queen forbid it because she had her bets on Ireland failing and falling to England. Any other efforts to save Ireland were answered with threats of war. Anyone who was smart enough to come up with a rescue plan were sent to penal colonies in Bermuda. I figure Monsanto looked at that as the impetus to come up with their business plan.
Vincebus
May 25, 2013 2:36 PM CDT
well dig his ass up, sit 'im in court, and give 'im 'life'