Gail L. Schumann
Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Schumann, G.L, 2010. Using the Society for Infectious Diseases Website for Student Plant Disease Reports. The Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-T-2010-0204-01
Instructors in many introductory plant pathology courses assign students independent research projects. This note describes a valuable resource for initiating such projects. The Society for Infectious Diseases sponsors a free website (http://www.promedmail.org) that describes disease outbreaks around the world. The reports include both animal and plant diseases. Free email subscriptions (listservs) periodically provide reports on plant disease outbreaks: Pro-MED-plant (only plant disease outbreaks) and Pro-MED-plant-digest (consolidation of Pro-Med-plant posts).
There are several distinct advantages to these reports as a starting point for students. The reports describe current outbreaks and their economic impact at the location. Sometimes the reports begin with a media report. The reports also usually include some detailed and accurate information about the disease by the moderators. The reports list links to the archives that are searchable by key words such as disease, geographical area, host, or pathogen, so students can investigate further using this resource.
If an instructor subscribes to one of the email options, it is easy to watch for useful reports and save them over the course of a year or two to provide students with a selection of current and important plant disease outbreaks around the world. Alternatively, one can search the archives using key words “plant” and “disease” or search for reports on specific diseases. Here are some examples:
Asian soybean rust-USA: spread and summary, 2007 (Oct 9, 2007)
Black pod, cocoa- Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana (Sept 14, 2007)
Huanglongbing, citrus: Control (Jun 1, 2009)
Wheat stem rust, Ug99: Resistance breeding (Mar 26, 2009)
Although these reports are useful in standard plant pathology courses, they also can be used for general education biology courses. In such courses, students may need some encouragement to appreciate the significance of plant diseases which these reports emphasize. In some cases, the student may be unfamiliar not only with the disease, but the crop, e.g., cassava/manioc. Students may be assigned to write a paper that answers the following questions:
- why the disease was of interest to the student
- significance of the disease (economic impact, etc.)
- type of pathogen, its scientific name, and some details about its biology (e.g., how does it spread, how does it survive when the plant is not around, such as winter)
- what kinds of plants are affected (one species, many species)
- where the disease is a problem (worldwide, North America, only in their state, etc.)
- what can be done to manage or prevent the disease. (chemical or biological controls, genetic resistance, cultural practices such as irrigation or crop rotation).
Depending on the number of students, each student also may give a short summary of their report to the entire class to enrich the course beyond the standard material discussed in lecture. The reports contribute to their agricultural awareness about current events in plant diseases.