science facts and fallacies

Podcast: The story of a grape disease that decimated vineyards for 200 years—and how science helped stop it

| September 5, 2019
Cameron English: GLP Senior Agricultural Genetics Editor    More details
Kevin Folta: University of Florida plant geneticist    More details

When Europeans began to colonize North America 400 plus years ago, they brought along the crops they knew how to grow so they could have food – things like wheat, barley, apples, and grapes. Some did well in the New World, but others didn’t. Wheat did great in the Northern Colonies, but poorly in the South because of a fungal “rust” disease favored by the wetter, warmer weather there. The winters in the North were too cold for one of Europe’s favorite crops – grapes. When the settlers tried to grow grapes in the South they would grow for a while, but then mysteriously die after a few years.

These unexplained grape deaths were due to an alarming new disease that arose in the 1800s, and it took a long time for scientists to track down the culprit. For decades, the “murderer” couldn’t be identified.

Related article:  Grapes genetically resistant to mildew rot could cut pesticide use and French wine prices at the same time

Who among us doesn’t love a good mystery? A whiff of danger and a few threads of misdirection leaves one wondering how the detectives will crack the case! On this episode of Biotech Facts and Fallacies, plant pathologist Steve Savage discusses a murder mystery that nearly went cold: the case of a disease afflicting grapes in the 19th century, and the research conducted by key “detectives” who finally brought the disease under control.

Full show transcript available here.

Steve Savage is a plant pathologist and senior contributor to the GLP. Follow him on Twitter @grapedoc. The Pop Agriculture podcast is available for listening or subscription on iTunes and Google Podcasts.

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