Nineteenth and early twentieth century botanists and mycologists collected healthy and infected plant materials from many regions of the world. Some of these plant collections preserved in herbaria around the world contain samples that are of considerable significance to epidemiologists, population biologists, and botanists. The advent of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the development of molecular marker technology has made DNA amplification from herbarium material a reality. In this mini-review, archival letters and herbarium samples are used to track the historical role of oospores in the biology of the potato late blight pathogen. DNA was successfully amplified by PCR with the Phytophthora infestans-specific PCR primer, PINF, and the universal primer, ITS 5, from oospores observed in a field sample of potato collected by G. P. Clinton in 1902. This experiment demonstrates the potential to utilize molecular methods to amplify DNA from historical samples of the late blight pathogen and represents the earliest definitive record of oospores of the pathogen in field samples in the United States. Studies based upon such materials and techniques, although high risk and laborious, have the potential to open a new window to epidemics of the past.
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