Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mr. Potato

 Dr. John S. Niederhauser (1916–2005) 
[I]nternationally renowned scientist and adjunct professor of pathology in the UA College of Agriculture from 1985-2005, was awarded the World Food Prize in 1990 for his leadership in developing potato varieties resistant to disease and fostering international cooperation to improve the world's food supply and alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Known as "Mr. Potato," his work impacted agricultural production in more than 60 countries.
One of Niederhauser's most important scientific contributions was the development of potato varieties with resistance to late blight disease, caused by the fungal pathogen Phytopthora infestans. This pathogen was responsible for many potato disease outbreaks around the world, including the Irish potato famine during the 1840s.During his research, Niederhauser discovered that the source of the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine came from Mexico. More importantly, he discovered many wild inedible potato species in Mexico that possessed a durable field resistance to the late blight fungus. He began breeding work using these resistant lines which resulted in a collection of commercially useful resistant potato varieties. These new varieties allowed subsistence farmers around the world to be able to grow potatoes for the first time with few or no chemical fungicide applications.Niederhauser's work resulted in the establishment of the potato as the fourth major food crop worldwide. As a result of this work, potato production in Mexico increased from 134,000 metric tons in 1948 to greater than 1 million metric tons by 1982. 
"Potato blight (or potato late blight) is caused by a mildewlike fungus called Phytophthora infestans that can infect the potato foliage and its tubers. Although P. infestans is best known as a pathogen of the potato, this fungus also attacks the tomato and a number of other plants belonging to the family Solanaceae …." 
from Potato Blight: An entry from Macmillan Reference USA's Macmillan Reference USA Science Library: Plant Sciences by John S. Niederhauser)