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How Phytophthora Infestans Affected The Irish Potato Famine

1747 words - 7 pages

This paper will discuss the significance of Phytophthora infestans in regards to the mid-nineteenth century Irish potato famine. Phytophthora infestans is an organism that infects potatoes as well as tomatoes and is the cause of the potato famine that invaded Ireland in 1845. The invasiveness and complexity of Phytophthora infestans was responsible for the spread and severity of the outbreak that resulted in mass emigration and death. Ultimately, Ireland was ill-prepared economically, socially and intellectually to control the Phytophthora infestans infestation of the mid-nineteenth century.
Phytophthora infestans, also known as P. infestans, is an oomycete and a host specific parasite (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). P. infestans primarily infects the plant tissue of potatoes and tomatoes, causing the plant to develop irregularly shaped lesions on the plant’s leaves. Potatoes infected with P. infestans develop large black lesions on the skin of the potato causing the potato to become slimy, soft and completely inedible. The damage that P. infestans inflicts on the potato was a huge problem in mid-nineteenth century Ireland because half of the country relied on the potato for sustenance (Mintz and McNeil, 2014). Many Irish peasants could not afford to rent many acres of land, thus the potato was the ideal crop because one acre of potatoes could support a family for a year (Mintz and McNeil, 2014). The arrival of P. infestans eliminated nearly half of Ireland’s food supply, causing nutritional deficiencies that led to other diseases like scurvy and death (Mintz and McNeil, 2014). Ireland’s dependency on the potato ultimately increased the severity of the Irish potato famine.
P. infestans easily reproduces and spreads under humid, cool and moist conditions (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). In ideal conditions, P. infestans produces asexual sporangium which is an enclosed structure where reproductive cells known as spores are produced (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). Sporangium is produced on the sporangiophores which is the structure of the plant that grows spores (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). In water at high humidity, the cytoplasm of sporangium divides, allowing zoospores to emerge (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). Sporangium spreads quickly because the sporangium can be transmitted to other plants by the wind (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). Furthermore, P. infestans is spread through direct and indirect germination. Indirect germination occurs when sporangium are carried by wind to healthy plants in order to release zoospores in healthy plant tissue (Judelson, 1997). In warmer conditions, P. infestans germinates directly by forming a germ tube from the sporangium and penetrating the healthy host tissues to gain nutrients (Judelson, 1997). In good conditions, sporangium can penetrate host cells in only two hours and can produce one hundred thousand sporangium per lesion (Shumann and D’Arcy, 2000). If germination occurs in optimal temperatures (18-22 degrees Celsius),...

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