Potato research: Fighting the blight
Irish famine fungus makes comeback through stronger strainOctober 23, 1998
Web posted at: 10:21 a.m. EDT (1421 GMT)
In this story:
ITHACA, New York (CNN) -- More than 150 years after the Irish potato famine, aggressive relatives of the disastrous fungus are making themselves at home all over the world. But scientists are fighting the blight with efforts to develop new disease-resistant plants.
For generations, potato late-blight fungus has been the enemy of the world's potato farmers. Scientists believe the strain originated in Mexico and traveled in the 1840s to Ireland where it killed nearly all of Ireland's potatoes.
The resulting famine led to about 1 million deaths. Nearly 2 million more people were forced to emigrate.
The new, stronger strain of potato late-blight fungus may also have come from Mexico. Scientists believe it was exported from there to Europe in the 1970s in potato shipments which then traveled worldwide.
William Fry, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, estimates the new strain has caused about $3 billion in annual crop losses and has cut international potato production by 15 percent.
The International Potato Center, a research organization, has used cross-breeding and molecular biology to create potatoes that are blight-resistant, says Wanda Collins, deputy director. ( 88 KB/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Scientists hope to have the new late-blight-resistant potato plants in worldwide use within five years.
Reporter Allard Beutel contributed to this report.
Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.