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    Post: Cause of Potato Famine & Why Its Coming Back

    Posted by Sharon on 12/27/09

    (NaturalNews) Researchers have sequenced the genome of the
    fungus responsible for the Great Irish Potato Famine in the
    1800s, uncovering the reason that the organism continues to
    plague potato farmers to this day.

    "This pathogen has an exquisite ability to adapt and
    change, and that's what makes it so dangerous," said lead
    researcher Chad Nusbaum of the Broad Institute in
    Cambridge, Mass.

    The organism, known as Phytophthora infestans, is a type of
    water mold that continues to cost potato farmers billions
    of dollars every year. It prefers cool, wet climates and is
    capable of destroying entire fields of potatoes and
    tomatoes within only a few days. In 2003, P. infestans
    destroyed Papua New Guinea's entire potato crop.

    The mold evolves resistance to antifungal sprays with
    astonishing speed. In just the last few years, potato
    farmers in the United Kingdom have increased chemical
    spraying by 30 percent in an attempt to hold the organism
    at bay, and the ongoing blight in Ireland has been
    called "the worst in living memory," according to the BBC.

    According to information published in the journal Nature,
    P. infestans' genome is especially large, at least twice as
    long as the genetic code of its closest relatives. Some
    regions of the genome are particularly dense, containing
    many genes in a small area, while others are much less
    dense. It is these gene-light areas that may hold the key
    to the organism's adaptability: more than 700 key genes
    were mapped in these regions, some of them coding for
    attacks on potatoes' immune systems.

    "The regions change rapidly over time, acting as a kind of
    incubator to enable the rapid birth and death of genes that
    are key to plant infection," said co-lead author Brian
    Haas. "As a result, these critical genes may be gained and
    lost so rapidly that the hosts simply can't keep up."

    Modern agriculture has exacerbated the problem, said Paul
    Birch of the Scottish Crop Research Institute. Widespread
    application of chemicals encourages pest evolution, while
    genetic standardization of food crops makes them more
    vulnerable to infestation.

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