New virulent types of the potato late blight pathogen have emerged in Russia, threatening growers and consumers with the destruction of an essential staple crop, according to the Cornell-Eastern Europe-Mexico (CEEM) Potato Late Blight Program.
The new strains of Phytopthora infestans are far more aggressive than the pathogen that triggered the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, having evolved through sexual mating. Unlike the old strains, the new pathogen can survive harsh winters in the soil, further endangering crops.
CEEM scientists see no quick solution. However, they are cooperating with other international agricultural organizations to develop new varieties that resist the disease.
Research emphasis is on survival of the fittest. Researchers are crossing domestic potatoes with wild relatives from Latin America, which have developed natural resistance by co-existing with the disease for millennia.
Such research usually takes about 14 years for one variety. In February, Cornell announced a blight-resistant variety, the New York 121, a white potato derived from Peruvian and Argentinean descent by Robert Plaisted, Cornell professor of plant breeding.