Skip to comments.'Whodunnit' of Irish Potato Famine Solved
Posted on 05/21/2013 12:25:13 PM PDT by neverdem
An international team of scientists reveals that a unique strain of potato blight they call HERB-1 triggered the Irish potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century.
It is the first time scientists have decoded the genome of a plant pathogen and its plant host from dried herbarium samples. This opens up a new area of research to understand how pathogens evolve and how human activity impacts the spread of plant disease.
Phytophthora infestans changed the course of history. Even today, the Irish population has still not recovered to pre-famine levels. "We have finally discovered the identity of the exact strain that caused all this havoc," says Hernán Burbano from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.
For research to be published in eLife, a team of molecular biologists from Europe and the US reconstructed the spread of the potato blight pathogen from dried plants. Although these were 170 to 120 years old, they were found to have many intact pieces of DNA.
"Herbaria represent a rich and untapped source from which we can learn a tremendous amount about the historical distribution of plants and their pests -- and also about the history of the people who grew these plants," according to Kentaro Yoshida from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.
The researchers examined the historical spread of the fungus-like oomycete Phytophthora infestans, known as the Irish potato famine pathogen. A strain called US-1 was long thought to have been the cause of the fatal outbreak. The current study concludes that a strain new to science was responsible. While more closely related to the US-1 strain than to other modern strains, it is unique. "Both strains seem to have separated from each other only years before the first major outbreak in Europe," says Burbano.
The researchers compared the historic samples with modern strains...
(Excerpt) Read more at sciencedaily.com ...
The famine was due to politics.
The one thing that always puzzled me was why did the Irish starve when they are on an island surrounded by a sea full of fish?
Just finished listening to a book on this subject, among others.
The problem was made much worse by propagating the potato by planting eyes rather than seed. This means the plants are basically clones.
Since the Irish potatoes were pretty much all descended from a very few plants brought over a couple centuries earlier, you had an entire island planted with a monoculture of almost genetically identical plants. No resistance whatsoever.
More like South of Boston.
Not everyone lived close enough to the sea to fish.
Not likely. 1780s, possibly.
The penal laws repressing Catholics were harsh enough indeed, but they didn't outlaw the Mass nor shoot people for attending.
And by the 1880s almost all the penal laws had been repealed.
Ironically, the Irish population was so large at the time, the English actually were concerned that *any* disaster in Ireland could result in a vast and disastrous flood of Irish refugees to England.
So about the time the potato disease was attacking crops on the continent, but before it had moved to Ireland, a parliamentary committee decided that steps should be taken to ease passage of the Irish to America, and anywhere other than England.
At the time, the Irish population was over 8 million, with an estimated 1 million dying of disease and famine, and another 1 million migrating to other countries. A census right after the famine revealed 6.5 million, which reveals that population continued to increase *during* the famine, (explained biologically because starvation actually increases fertility.)
But after the famine, the population continued to decline, to about 4.4 million in 1911. Today the Irish population is about 4.8 million.
Importantly, how the disease struck was important, because the potato crop was still being harvested, but the potatoes were stored in pits, and it was during this storage the disease would rapidly spread through the potatoes, turning them into an inedible black pulp.
There were two types of Irish. Green and Orange. The Orange owned most of the land. The Green were mostly tenant farmers of five acres or less. Not enough land to raise livestock and only enough to grow potatoes. There was little industry to find work and no land to own. Essentially there was no future for the Green at all in Ireland with or without the British help. My grandparents all left Ireland between 1905 and 1915. All as children two of them were orphans.
What complete and utter bullshit.Do you think thats all the Irish lived on was spuds?
The famine is a myth created by the brits to cover up the starvation of millions of Irish people to feed their colonies overseas.
It’s common practice among potato growers to grow next years crop from last years remaining tubers. (eyes)
If a potato plant gets to the point where it is flowering and creating new seed pods, tuber production falls dramatically, and existing tubers can get stressed to the point they are not worth a crap.
Now people DO grow them with the intent of crossing them and creating new hybrids (Luther Burbank!!) but in the years I’ve gardened, I never even heard of anyone starting potato plants from fertilized potato seeds.
Remember, potatoes are of the solanum (Nightshade) family, and the possibility always exists that a new hybrid crop could pick up stuff from another native solanum species.
You could end up with some real KILLER potatoes!
Aye, to be sure!
Bananas have the same problem.
The banana republics were developed using cuttings from the Gros Michael banana, on terms similar to that of the Union-Pacific: Railroads were built to plantations with land on alternating sides of the road going to the railroad builder (Standard Fruit or United Fruit). When fungus hit the Gros Michael, they tried to expand cultivation, but the fungus followed.
Eventually cultivation of the Gros Michael was not viable, and there were no bananas available. (Yes, we have no bananas.....). Banana cultivation was eventually restarted with the Cavendish banana, a formerly rare variant derived from Asia. It took more careful handling (boxes not stems), but its cultivation eventually expanded to Asia, where a fungus mutated to affect it. That fungus is now spreading.
Some ancient asian bananas have seeds. Uganda has over 70 species of banana.
The tenant farmers saw a famine. The landed aristocracy saw a potato blight. England bought many tons of Indian corn (Maize) and offered it for very low prices, perhaps as much as they could conceive of doing in those times.
The Irish were not permitted to fish using boats at sea without paying a tax. Some did, and the very nice sweaters with knit patterns on them were how the Aran Irish recognized their dead after they were lost at sea.
After tenants left, or couldn’t pay rent and were forced to leave, many tenant farms were converted to grazing, which took less manpower, and provided more income.
The famine wasn’t a myth. It was a tragedy.
Many different individual flaws, no one of which in itself was enough, combined to create the reality of the famine.
In hindsight we can see it. At the time, it was harder to understand.
There were at least 3 types of Irish.
Green Irish Catholics,
Anglicans, the Anglo-Irish,
And the Orange Scots-Irish Presbyterians.
The Irish were forced to depend on potatoes as a sole source of nutrition because the people who had taken over their lands demanded the rest of the crops they raised.
That is true. I have an Ireland ping list. I even use it sometimes! I’ve added neverdem.