Phytophthora infestans

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Phytophthora infestans
Late blight on potato leaf 2.jpg
Symptom of late blight on the underside of a potato leaf
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
(unranked): SAR
Superphylum: Heterokonta
Class: Oomycota
Order: Peronosporales
Family: Pythiaceae
Genus: Phytophthora
Species: P. infestans
Binomial name
Phytophthora infestans
(Mont.) de Bary

Phytophthora infestans is an [Fungus microorganism, specifically an oomycete, which causes the serious potato and tomato disease known as late blight or potato blight. (Early blight, caused by Alternaria solani, is also often called "potato blight".) Late blight was a major culprit in the 1840s European, the 1845 Irish, and the 1846 Highland potato famines. The organism can also infect some other members of the Solanaceae.[1][2][3] The pathogen is favored by moist, cool environments: sporulation is optimal at 12–18°C in water-saturated or nearly saturated environments, and zoospore production is favored at temperatures below 15° C. Lesion growth rates are typically optimal at a slightly warmer temperature range of 20 to 24° C.[4]


The genus name Phytophthora comes from the Greek φυτό-(phyto), meaning : "plant" - plus the Greek φθορά (phthora), meaning : "decay, ruin, perish". The species name infestans is the present participle of the Latin verb infestare, meaning : "attacking, destroying", from which we get the word "to infest".

Life cycle, signs and symptoms[edit]

Ripe tomato infected with blight.
Tomato plant infected with blight.
Unripe tomatoes infected with blight.
Potatoes infected with late blight are shrunken on the outside, corky and rotted inside.

The asexual life cycle of Phytophthora infestans is characterized by alternating phases of hyphal growth, sporulation, sporangia germination (either through zoospore release or direct germination, i.e. germ tube emergence from the sporangium), and the re-establishment of hyphal growth.[5] There is also a sexual cycle, which occurs when isolates of opposite mating type (A1 and A2) meet. Hormonal communication triggers the formation of the sexual spores, called oospores.[6] The different types of spores play major roles in the dissemination and survival of P. infestans. Sporangia are spread by wind or water and enable the movement of P. infestans between different host plants. The zoospores released from sporangia are biflagellated and chemotactic, allowing further movement of P. infestans on water films found on leaves or soils. Both sporangia and zoospores are short-lived, in contrast to oospores which can persist in a viable form for many years.

The color of potato sign is white. People can observe phytophthora infestans produces sporangia and sporangiophores on the surface of potato stems and leaves.[7] These sporangia and sporangiophores are always appear on the lower surface of the foliage. As for tuber blight, the white mycelium often on the tubers surface.[8]

Under ideal conditions, the life cycle can be completed on potato or tomato foliage in about five days.[5] Sporangia develop on the leaves, spreading through the crop when temperatures are above 10 °C (50 °F) and humidity is over 75–80% for 2 days or more. Rain can wash spores into the soil where they infect young tubers, and the spores can also travel long distances on the wind. The early stages of blight are easily missed. Symptoms include the appearance of dark blotches on leaf tips and plant stems. White mold will appear under the leaves in humid conditions and the whole plant may quickly collapse. Infected tubers develop grey or dark patches that are reddish brown beneath the skin, and quickly decay to a foul-smelling mush caused by the infestation of secondary soft bacterial rots. Seemingly healthy tubers may rot later when in store.

P. infestans survives poorly in nature apart from its plant hosts. Under most conditions, the hyphae and asexual sporangia can survive for only brief periods in plant debris or soil, and are generally killed off during frosts or very warm weather. The exceptions involve oospores, and hyphae present within tubers. The persistence of viable pathogen within tubers, such as those that are left in the ground after the previous year's harvest or left in cull piles is a major problem in disease management. In particular, volunteer plants sprouting from infected tubers are thought to be a major source of inoculum at the start of a growing season.[9] This can have devastating effects by destroying entire crops.

The damage of late blight of potato[edit]

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) is the most destructive fungal disease of potato, reducing yields considerably. For example: it is best known as the cause of the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, which resulted in the death or emigration of over 2 million people from Ireland.[10] In 1995, there was a 4-6% of the quantity of potatoes because of late blight in the Columbian[disambiguation needed], which cost around 1.3 million to control the late blight (Tai,1998). There is another reason why the late blight could cause a large damage is that late blight has a wide geographic range.[11]


P. infestans is diploid, with about 11-13 chromosomes, and in 2009 scientists completed the sequencing of its genome. The genome was found to be considerably larger (240 Mbp) than that of most other Phytophthora species whose genomes have been sequenced; Phytophthora sojae has a 95 Mbp genome and Phytophthora ramorum had a 65 Mbp genome. About 18,000 genes were detected within the P. infestans genome. It also contained a diverse variety of transposons and many gene families encoding for effector proteins that are involved in causing pathogenicity. These proteins are split into two main groups depending on whether they are produced by the water mould in the symplast (inside plant cells) or in the apoplast (between plant cells). Proteins produced in the symplast included RXLR proteins, which contain an arginine-X-leucine-arginine (where X can be any amino acid) sequence at the amino terminus of the protein. Some RXLR proteins are avirulence proteins, meaning that they can be detected by the plant and lead to a hypersensitive response which restricts the growth of the pathogen. P. infestans was found to encode around 60% more of these proteins than most other Phytophthora species. Those found in the apoplast include hydrolytic enzymes such as proteases, lipases and glycosylases that act to degrade plant tissue, enzyme inhibitors to protect against host defence enzymes and necrotizing toxins. Overall the genome was found to have an extremely high repeat content (around 74%) and to have an unusual gene distribution in that some areas contain many genes whereas others contain very few.[1][12]

Origin and diversity of P. infestans[edit]

Historical model of Phytophthora infestans, Botanical Museum Greifswald
Historical model of a potato leaf with Phytophthora infestans, Botanical Museum Greifswald

The highlands of central Mexico are considered by many to be the center of origin of P. infestans, although others have proposed its origin to be in the Andes, which is also the origin of potatoes.[13][14] A recent study evaluated these two alternate hypotheses and found conclusive support for central Mexico being the center of origin.[15] Support for Mexico comes from multiple observations including the fact that populations are genetically most diverse in Mexico, late blight is observed in native tuber-bearing Solanum species, populations of the pathogen are in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, the two mating types occur in a 1:1 ratio, and detailed phylogeographic and evolutionary studies.[14][15][16][17][18][19][20] Furthermore, the closest relatives of P. infestans, namely P. mirabilis and P. ipomoeae are endemic to central Mexico.[21] On the other hand, the only close relative found in South America, namely P. andina, is a hybrid that does not share a single common ancestor with P. infestans. Finally, populations of P. infestans in South America lack genetic diversity and are clonal.[15][22][23]

Migrations from Mexico to North America or Europe have occurred several times throughout history, probably linked to the movement of tubers.[24][25] Until the 1970s, the A2 mating type was restricted to Mexico, but now in many regions of the world both A1 and A2 isolates can be found in the same region.[26] The co-occurrence of the two mating types is significant due to the possibility of sexual recombination and formation of oospores, which can survive the winter. Only in Mexico and Scandinavia, however, is oospore formation thought to play a role in overwintering.[14][27] In other parts of Europe, increasing genetic diversity has been observed as a consequence of sexual reproduction[28] This is notable since different forms of P. infestans vary in their aggressiveness on potato or tomato, in sporulation rate, and sensitivity to fungicides.[29] Variation in such traits also occurs in North America, however importation of new genotypes from Mexico appears to be the predominant cause of genetic diversity, as opposed to sexual recombination within potato or tomato fields. Many of the strains that appeared outside of Mexico since the 1980s have been more aggressive, leading to increased crop losses.[30] Some of the differences between strains may be related to variation in the RXLR effectors that are present.

Potato late blight and genetic marker in a breeding population[edit]

Genetic marker[edit]

A known gene or DNA sequence which used to recognize unknown individual or species, termed genetic marker.[31]) There is a short sequence genetic marker and long sequence genetic marker. Genetic marker is associated with the genes you want to mark. Researchers need certain what genes you want to mark and exam. People also need to prepare the primer to make and repeat the genetic marker depends on the DNA sequences of target genes.[32] Scientists design the primer of the target genes and generate primers by the technology of PCR. Then, insert the genetic markers to the target genes.

Breeding population[edit]

One part of potatoes with genetic marker, the same number of potatoes without genetic marker. Using these two kinds of potatoes to reproduce, then get a lot of the first progeny, which called the breeding population. People select satisfied parents of potatoes, and produce various genotypes or phenotypes.[33] Researchers select some potatoes depend on their genotypes or phenotypes in breeding system. This method used in agriculture to culture and create excellent plants (Xiong, Tai, Seabrook & Wehling, 2002).[34] This way also reduces the cost of culture or create superior seedlings.


It was reported that R genes have an ability to protect potatoes from late blight.[35] Scientists transited known DNA sequence to potatoes and tell between late blight resistant and late blight susceptible potato progeny in the given breeding background. These R genes were used the technology of PCR to analyze. Used known DNA marker to labeled certain R genes.[36] Researchers chose one common potato and one potato that contained R genes as parents. Scientists would collect a lot of generations from these two kinds of parents. Researchers used known genetic marker to distinguish between late blight resistant and late blight susceptible potato progeny in this breeding population. Collected the potatoes which contained genetic markers[37]. It meant researchers collected the potatoes which contained the R genes. Then used the Phytophthora infestans to infect all generations in a breeding population. Observed the leaves and tubers during experimental time.[38] People through the signs and symptoms to assess the level of infection. These processes can prove the ability of R genes protect the disease of late blight.


Researchers indicated that the environmental condition had a great effect on late blight of tuber when figure out the resistant relationship between the late blight of leaves and tubers in the breeding system.[39] Therefore, scientists detected the infected foliage from field natural condition, while they analysed infected tubers from greenhouse condition. Researchers suggested that it is better to select foliage resistance firstly, then detect their tubers in greenhouse condition.[40] In order to eliminate this factor, a part of researchers suggested used the technology of tissue culture. Used the seeds of the generation from breeding populations to culture the tissue into mini plants, and then used the pathogen to infect the foliage and tubers of the potato plants.[41] This method did the experiment in control condition which avoided the environmental factors.

Disease management[edit]

P. infestans is still a difficult disease to control.[3] There are many chemical options in agriculture for the control of both damage to the foliage and infections of the tuber.[42] A few of the most common foliar-applied fungicides are Ridomil, a Gavel/SuperTin tank mix, and Previcur Flex. All of the aforementioned fungicides need to be tank mixed with a broad-spectrum fungicide such as mancozeb or chlorothalonil not just for resistance management but also because the potato plants will be attacked by other pathogens at the same time.

If adequate field scouting occurs and late blight is found soon after disease development, localized patches of potato plants can be killed with a desiccant (e.g. paraquat) through the use of a backpack sprayer. This management technique can be thought of as a field-scale hypersensitive response similar to what occurs in some plant-viral interactions whereby cells surrounding the initial point of infection are killed in order to prevent proliferation of the pathogen.

If infected tubers make it into the storage bin, there's a very high risk to the storage life of that bin. Once in storage, there isn't much that can be done besides emptying the parts of the bin that contain tubers infected with Phytophthora infestans. To increase the probability of successfully storing potatoes from a field where late blight was known to occur during the growing season, some products can be applied just prior to entering storage (e.g. Phostrol). The problem with products being sprayed on tubers just prior to storage is that you are applying these products in an aqueous solution and high moisture carries a high risk of tuber breakdown due to wide range of pathogens.

Around the world the disease causes around $6 billion of damage to crops each year.[1][2]

Resistant plants[edit]

Potatoes after exposure to Phytophthora infestans. The normal potatoes have blight but the cisgenic potatoes are healthy.

Breeding for resistance, particularly in potato, has had limited success in part due to difficulties in crossing cultivated potato to its wild relatives, which are the source of potential resistance genes. In addition, most resistance genes only work against a subset of P. infestans isolates, since effective plant disease resistance only results when the pathogen expresses a RXLR effector gene that matches the corresponding plant resistance (R) gene; effector-R gene interactions trigger a range of plant defenses, such as the production of compounds toxic to the pathogen.

Potato and tomato varieties vary in their susceptibility to blight.[28] Most early varieties are very vulnerable; they should be planted early so that the crop matures before blight starts (usually in July in the Northern Hemisphere). Many old crop varieties, such as King Edward potato are also very susceptible but are grown because they are wanted commercially. Maincrop varieties which are very slow to develop blight include Cara, Stirling, Teena, Torridon, Remarka, and Romano. Some so-called resistant varieties can resist some strains of blight and not others, so their performance may vary depending on which are around.[28] These crops have had polygenic resistance bred into them, and are known as "field resistant". New varieties such as Sarpo Mira and Sarpo Axona show great resistance to blight even in areas of heavy infestation. Defender is an American cultivar whose parentage includes Ranger Russet and Polish potatoes resistant to late blight. It is a long white-skinned cultivar with both foliar and tuber resistance to late blight. Defender was released in 2004.[43]

Genetic engineering may also provide options for generating resistance cultivars. A resistance gene effective against most known strains of blight has been identified from a wild relative of the potato, Solanum bulbocastanum, and introduced by genetic engineering into cultivated varieties of potato.[44] This is an example of cisgenic genetic engineering.[45]

Reducing inoculum[edit]

Blight can be controlled by limiting the source of inoculum.[28] Only good-quality seed potatoes and tomatoes obtained from certified suppliers should be planted. Often discarded potatoes from the previous season and self-sown tubers can act as sources of inoculum.[46]

Compost, soil or potting medium can be heat-treated to kill oomycetes such as Phytophthora infestans. The recommended sterilisation temperature for oomycetes is 120 °F (49 °C) for 30 minutes.[47][48]

Environmental conditions[edit]

There are several environmental conditions that are conducive to P. infestans. An example of such took place in the United States during the 2009 growing season. As colder than average for the season and with greater than average rainfall, there was a major infestation of tomato plants, specifically in the eastern states.[49] By using weather forecasting systems, such as BLITECAST, if the following conditions occur as the canopy of the crop closes, then the use of fungicides is recommended to prevent an epidemic.[50]

  • A Beaumont Period is a period of 48 consecutive hours, in at least 46 of which the hourly readings of temperature and relative humidity at a given place have not been less than 10 °C (50 °F) and 75%, respectively.[51][52]
  • A Smith Period is at least two consecutive days where min temperature is 10 °C (50 °F) or above and on each day at least 11 hours when the relative humidity is greater than 90%.

The Beaumont and Smith periods have traditionally been used by growers in the United Kingdom, with different criteria developed by growers in other regions.[52] The Smith period has been the preferred system used in the UK since its introduction in the 1970s.[53]

Based on these conditions and other factors, several tools have been developed to help growers manage the disease and plan fungicide applications. Often these are deployed as part of Decision Support Systems accessible through web sites or smart phones.

Use of fungicides[edit]

Spraying in a potato field for prevention of potato blight in Nottinghamshire, England.

Fungicides for the control of potato blight are normally only used in a preventative manner, optionally in conjunction with disease forecasting. In susceptible varieties, sometimes fungicide applications may be needed weekly. An early spray is most effective. The choice of fungicide can depend on the nature of local strains of P. infestans. Metalaxyl is a fungicide that was marketed for use against P. infestans, but suffered serious resistance issues when used on its own. In some regions of the world during the 1980s and 1990s, most strains of P. infestans became resistant to metalaxyl, but in subsequent years many populations shifted back to sensitivity. To reduce the occurrence of resistance, it is strongly advised to use single-target fungicides such as metalaxyl along with carbamate compounds. A combination of other compounds are recommended for managing metalaxyl-resistant strains. These include mandipropamid, chlorothalonil, fluazinam, triphenytin, mancozeb and others. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved oxathiapiprolin for use against late blight.[54]

In the past, copper sulfate solution (called 'bluestone') was used to combat potato blight. Copper pesticides remain in use on organic crops, both in the form of copper hydroxide and copper sulfate. Given the dangers of copper toxicity, other organic control options that have been shown to be effective include horticultural oils, phosphorous acids, and rhamnolipid biosurfactants, while sprays containing "beneficial" microbes such as Bacillus subtilis or compounds that encourage the plant to produce defensive chemicals (such as knotweed extract) have not performed as well.[55]

Control of tuber blight[edit]

Ridging is often used to reduce tuber contamination by blight. This normally involves piling soil or mulch around the stems of the potato blight meaning the pathogen has farther to travel to get to the tuber.[56] Another approach is to destroy the canopy around five weeks before harvest, using a contact herbicide or sulfuric acid to burn off the foliage. Eliminating infected foliage reduces the likelihood of tuber infection.

Genetic resistance compared with traditional management[edit]

Potato as a fourth food crop in the world,[57] which plays a very important role in our daily meals. The light blight would cause a big economic loss.

Traditional methods spend more time and money to avoid late blight. There are some traditional methods which depend on different aspects. Because infected seed tubers can be a source of the pathogen, it is important to plant only healthy seed tubers. [58] It is also important to eliminate any tubers that might have survived from one cropping season to the next, whether these tubers survived in soil after harvest or were discarded after storage. Some Solanaceous weeds can also harbor the pathogen, and any infected weeds in or near the crop need to be eliminated.[59] Fungicides are used in connection with a good monitoring program or to learn if the pathogen is present and application timing and rates are often aided by an appropriate forecast.[60]

By contrast, the resistance is more easier and spend less time and money than traditional methods. People need not spend a lot of time to distinguish which stage the late bight in, and then use what kinds of fungicide. Controlling the late blight by fungicide is expensive, and it becomes more difficult with the increasing resistance of pathogen in the infested populations in long term.[61] As for fungicide, it not environmental friendly, people concern about the effect of environment after using the fungicide, and customers worried about the fungicide residues in food. The genetic resistance can control potato late blight efficiently, which saves the natural resource, such as water, land and soil.[62] Overall, genetic resistance is a better way to control the disease of potato late blight.

Historical impact[edit]

Suggested paths of migration and diversification of P. infestans lineages HERB-1 and US-1

The effects of Phytophthora infestans in Ireland in 1845–52 were one of the factors which caused over one million to starve to death and forced another two million to emigrate from affected countries. Most commonly referenced is the Great Irish Famine, during the late 1840s. The first recorded instances of the disease were in the United States, in Philadelphia and New York City in early 1843. Winds then spread the spores, and in 1845 it was found from Illinois to Nova Scotia, and from Virginia to Ontario. It crossed the Atlantic Ocean with a shipment of seed potatoes for Belgian farmers in 1845.[63] All of the potato-growing countries in Europe were affected, but the potato blight hit Ireland the hardest. Implicated in Ireland's fate was the island's disproportionate dependency on a single variety of potato, the Irish Lumper. The lack of genetic variability created a susceptible host population for the organism.[64]

During the First World War, all of the copper in Germany was used for shell casings and electric wire and therefore none was available for making copper sulfate to spray potatoes. A major late blight outbreak on potato in Germany therefore went untreated, and the resulting scarcity of potatoes led to the deaths of 700,000 German civilians from starvation.[65]

France, Canada, the United States, and the Soviet Union researched P. infestans as a biological weapon in the 1940s and 1950s.[66] Potato blight was one of more than 17 agents that the United States researched as potential biological weapons before the nation suspended its biological weapons program.[67] Whether a weapon based on the pathogen would be effective is questionable, due to the difficulties in delivering viable pathogen to an enemy's fields, and the role of uncontrollable environmental factors in spreading the disease.


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