St. Paul, Minn. (November 25, 1996)—What's your favorite holiday food? Turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, salad, cranberries, or pumpkin pie?
Do you prefer your feast with—or without—smut, rust, blight, and rot?
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 Thanksgiving dinners," explained Thomas J. Volk, a mycologist and plant pathologist at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, and a member of The American Phytopathological Society.
If your Thanksgiving 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 Thanksgiving creatures in the 1960s was actually caused by feeding them peanut meal contaminated by Aspergillus flavus and related fungi. Today, peanut meal is screened for fungus and the Thanksgiving 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 many deaths and the great Irish immigration to the United States. That disease is once again of concern to potato growers due to the development of resistance to some fungicides currently used to manage the disease.
Corn smut is usually controlled to keep disease development to a minimum. But some growers actually harvest corn smut growth and sell it as "Smokey Maize Mushroom," 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 marred by soft rot of sweet potato, cranberry blight or rot of pumpkin.
The American Phytopathological Society is a professional scientific organization devoted to the study of plant diseases and their control. APS has promoted knowledge about this specialized science and today is the premier organization advancing modern concepts in plant health management in agricultural, urban and forest settings. The common goal of APS members is to promote knowledge of plant diseases and their management through publications, meetings, symposia, workshops and special activities.