Detective story: How genomics found the culprit in Ireland’s Great Famine

px Irish potato famine Bridget ODonnel
Depiction of the Irish potato famine from Illustrated London News, December 22, 1849 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

More than 1 million people died over the course of Ireland’s Great Famine between 1845 and 1852. We know, of course, that a blight had wiped out an entire species of potato — a staple of the Irish diet. But precisely what strain of the blight pathogen it was, exactly, had remained a mystery … until now.

Now, scientific and historical two-for-one, researchers have used dried potato leaves from herbariums to sequence the genome of the pathogen that caused the Great Famine.  The culprit was a single strain of the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora infestans — and not the common strain that was long the prime suspect.This marks the first time scientists have used dried leaves to decode the genome of a plant pathogen.

Those worried about a resurgence of the dreaded potato blight can breathe a sigh of relief: the strain of potato blight in question is extinct.

The study opens up a new avenue of genomics research using dried leaves from herbariums, which have proven to be a good source of DNA.

Read more about the discovery in these stories:

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
Infographic: The evolutionary history of the COVID-19 coronavirus

Infographic: The evolutionary history of the COVID-19 coronavirus

Reuters analysed over 185,000 genome samples from the Global Initiative on Sharing All influenza Data (GISAID), the largest database of ...

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend