Researchers identify strain linked to Irish Potato Famine

A plant pathogen strain responsible for a famine that killed a million people in 19th century Ireland has been identified by United Kingdom researchers.

The study, led by The Sainsbury Laboratory, identified an early strain of Phytophthora infestans as the pathogen responsible for the blight that caused the Irish Potato Famine, according to the BBC.

The scientists analyzed the pathogen found on dried leaf samples, some from as far back as 1845, kept at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in the U.K. and the Botanische Staatssammlung Muchen in Germany. Using DNA sequencing, the researchers compared the old samples to modern day stains of P. infestans.

They found the modern strains are different from the one – called HERB-1 – that caused the Potato Famine and that it may very well be extinct, BBC notes.

The strain is believed to have continued spreading through the 19th century, only to be replaced by today’s most common strain, US-1, in the 20th century after new potato types were introduced.

From 1846 to 1851, about one million people died in Ireland from starvation and disease following the potato blight. About two million left the country in the decade following 1845, according to the BBC.

An earlier study by Rothamsted Research also studied samples from the famine to glean clues about how the disease survived between crop seasons.

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