The Irish potato famine is the best known crop disease in history. This chapter addresses the root causes of the famine, with emphasis upon the relationship between the unprecedented population increase in Ireland in the 1840s before the arrival of the pathogen. Ireland was fated by its monoculture of potatoes and the dependent lives of millions of human beings. The Reverend Miles Berkeley was responsible for identifying the microbial culprit for the blight, and much of his brilliant work prefigured Louis Pasteur’s refutation of the theory of spontaneous generation. Potato blight is caused by the microbe, Phytophthora infestans, whose resemblance to fungi disguises a much closer evolutionary relationship to diatoms and brown algae. Research on fungicides is discussed, including the work of Alexis Millardet who is credited with the discovery of the Bordeaux mixture.
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