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Be Thankful for What's Not on Your Holiday Table—Advice from the Plant Doctor
St. Paul, Minn. (October 28, 2003)—What's your favorite holiday food? Turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potato, salad, cranberries, or pumpkin pie? Do you prefer your feast with or without smut, rust, blight, and rot?
The plant doctors at The American Phytopathological Society (APS) remind us that this holiday season we can be thankful for the efforts of plant pathologists and mycologists who work to keep our food healthy. They have learned to diminish the effects of fungi on some of our favorite foods.
"Fungi can infect just about every kind of crop or animal, even those needed for holiday dinners," explained APS member Thomas J. Volk, a mycologist and plant pathologist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
If your holiday feast includes turkey, be grateful that Turkey X Disease is under control. Scientists discovered that a "plague" on turkey farms that killed many of these creatures in the 1960s was actually caused by feeding them peanut meal contaminated by
and related fungi. Today peanut meal is screened for these fungi and the feast goes on.
Don't take your fluffy whipped potatoes for granted, either. Remember the famous Irish famine? It was caused by a fungus that destroyed the Irish potato crop in the 1840s, resulting in more than a million deaths and the great Irish emigration to the United States. That disease is once again of concern to potato growers due to the development of fungicide resistance by the fungus.
Then, there is corn smut, a fungus that transforms the yellow corn kernels into giant gray puffballs. Most growers manage the disease to minimize smut development thus allowing for healthy corn for decoration or consumption. A few growers, however, encourage the disease and harvest the smutty galls to sell as "Smokey Maize Mushrooms," a gourmet food.
Plant health doctors have given us an increased understanding of the conditions that promote plant and animal disease. Because of their work, your holiday celebration won't be spoiled by soft rot of sweet potato, cranberry blight, or rotting pumpkins.
The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant disease with 5,000 members worldwide.
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