The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #35146   Message #477906
Posted By: SINSULL
06-Jun-01 - 06:47 PM
Thread Name: Help: The Great Hunger
Subject: The Great Hunger
I found this in a recent issue of New Yorker and wondered how many readers knew the history behind the story. Then found an online article re: DNA Testing which finally identifies the fungus behind the Great Famine. The coincidence and the diametrically opposed tellings of the tale intrigued me.


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking - they were both walking - north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead>
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Wrong Culprit Blamed for Irish Potato Famine Reuters Jun 6 2001 2:10PM

LONDON (Reuters) - In a nifty piece of detective work American researchers have discovered that scientists have blamed the wrong culprit for the Irish potato famine that killed a million people and prompted mass emigration in the 1840s. DNA taken from leaves that had been preserved from the Irish famine showed no signs of the strain of the fungus-like organism scientists had thought caused the catastrophic crop failure that changed the course of history. Instead the DNA fingered three other strains of the pathogen Phytophthora infestans which had not even been considered. By identifying the real culprit researchers from North Carolina State University hope to develop better control methods to prevent future famines and grow sturdier plants to resist the pathogen. "The theory was that the 1b haplotype was the strain that had caused the famine but that work was all based on studies of modern, 20th century DNA from modern isolates (samples)," Dr. Jean Beagle Ristaino told Reuters. "We went back to the original cultures, or specimens, from the famine. Our work refutes the modern-day work," the plant pathologist and epidemiologist added. ORIGINAL LEAVES TELL DIFFERENT STORY Ristaino developed a diagnostic test using DNA, similar to DNA fingerprinting used to catch criminals. She and her team were the first to use potato leaf specimens dating from 1845-1847. Their findings, which are reported in the science journal Nature, not only point to a different strain of pathogen but question the accepted theory of where it came from. Scientists thought the pathogen had originated in Mexico but Ristaino and her colleagues believe the source was more likely to be South America. They are hoping that by studying the genetic type of the pathogen that occurred 150 years ago they will be able to identify the strain of the organism and its origin and understand how it evolved over time. That knowledge could be put to good use in prevent future epidemics and in breeding more resistant varieties of potato. "If we figure out where it came from. Potentially we could help target developing resistance in host plants," Ristaino explained. Apart from its historical significance, the research has important modern-day implications because the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is still a threat in many countries in the developing world and new strains are resistant to pesticides. "Because of this disease more pesticides are applied to potatoes than any other food crop. It's a modern-day problem," said Ristaino. Potatoes are one of the world's leading food crops. The pathogen is currently harming potato crops in Russia and smaller infestations occur regularly in Mexico, Ireland, Ecuador and the United States. Nicholas Money, of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, described Ristaino's research as a "remarkable piece of molecular detective work." "The new findings mean that some ideas about the origin of historical plant disease epidemics will need to be re-evaluated," he said in a commentary in Nature.