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Blight's Plight Not Quite Right

Fungus didn't cause Irish potato famine; scientists spudder

Scientists have to go back to the lab to figure out just what caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, according to a news service report in USA TODAY.

Scientists have long known that the blight was caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. But they thought the fungus was the same strain that is most common today, US-1.

However, Jean Ristaino, a plant pathologist at North Carolina State University, says she found no sign of the US-1 strain when she examined DNA from more than two dozen potato leaves gathered in Ireland and England between 1845 and 1847.

Ristaino reported her findings in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Now the hunt is on to figure out the blight's real cause, information that could help avert future blights, the story says.

Other scientists are trying to fight blight. Cornell University researchers have developed a fungus-resistant potato. Colorado State University has excellent information on potatoes and blight.

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