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Hungry Planet: Stories of Plant Diseases

Chapter One. Student Resources

The Irish Potato Famine: The Birth of Plant Pathology

The famous Irish potato famine of the 1840s led to the first proof that an organism could cause a plant disease (late blight of potato), predating even Louis Pasteur’s germ theory. It was a time of scientific discoveries as people began to accept that the bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens were not the result of spontaneous generation, but the actual causes of diseases. It also was a time of worldwide movement of plants from their centers of origin to other areas where they could grow and flourish. People began to appreciate that many beneficial aspects of agriculture- monoculture, genetic uniformity, new crops- had their dangers.

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