In just 7 years, the Irish Potato Famine caused approximately one million people to starve to death and forced another estimated million to flee Ireland as refugees. A mold called Phytophthora infestans infected Ireland’s potato crop, a staple food, and spread rapidly throughout the island. The seemingly tiny fungus destroyed roughly 75% of potato crops over the duration of the great hunger. This catastrophic famine, along with several others in various parts of the world throughout history, highlighted the critical need for the study of plant diseases.
Decades of groundbreaking discoveries about plant diseases ensued in the following century. Building from these discoveries, plant pathology continues to play a vital role in safeguarding plant health, food security, and food safety worldwide. The flagship journal of the American Phytopathological Society, Phytopathology, recently published a special issue—the first of a new series—examining how several key discoveries in plant pathology during the past 50 years have impacted the life sciences and plant disease management. This issue contains articles by top experts in various scientific fields, who review the discovery process, recent progress, and impact of these discoveries, while pointing out future directions for new discoveries in fundamental and applied plant pathology.
The key discoveries discussed in the first installment of this journal series include the Agrobacterium Ti plasmid and its mechanism in T-DNA transfer; bacterial ice nucleation; cloning of resistance genes; discovery of viroids; effectors and their mechanisms; pattern-triggered immunity and effector-triggered immunity; RNA interference and gene silencing; structure and function of R genes; transcription activator-like effectors; type-III secretion system and hrp/hrc; the deployment and management of host resistance genes; the application of disease models and forecasting systems; the introduction of modern systemic fungicides and host resistance inducers, along with a better understanding of fungicide resistance mechanisms and management; and the utilization of biological controls and suppressive soils, including the implementation of methyl-bromide alternatives.
These articles, both retrospective and forward-thinking, can significantly benefit researchers and students in plant pathology (plus related fields) and applied plant disease managers. Additionally, the Key Discoveries in Plant Pathology series will continue to benefit these individuals as new issues addressing other topics are published. Phytopathology Editor-in-Chief Nian Wang and past Editor-in-Chief Harald Scherm remark, “The special issue includes many key discoveries in plant pathology with tremendous importance. To allow coverage of important discoveries that were not reviewed due to space and time limitations in the present issue, the Key Discoveries series will continue as special issues or as individual articles. Colleagues are encouraged to submit review articles on key discoveries in plant pathology in the past 50 years.” In addition, the journal series will feature articles on the impact of advances in fields such as climate science, remote sensing, artificial intelligence, imaging technology, and synthetic biology on the discipline of plant pathology.
The aim of this issue and further issues is to explore how plant pathology has helped, and continues to help, protect plant and environmental health in the face of population growth and climate change.
For additional information, read “Key Discoveries in Plant Pathology”—Vol. 113, No. 4 / April 2023 of Phytopathology.
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Relative ranking of A, nine specific fundamental discoveries in plant pathology and B, eight major advances in practical disease management by respondents of an online survey conducted on behalf of Phytopathology in December 2021. The ranking on the vertical axis is a weighted score, with 9.0 and 8.0 being the theoretical maximum score for nine and eight choices in A and B, respectively. Data based on 878 and 804 survey respondents for A and B, respectively.