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Emergence of fungal plant diseases linked to ecological speciation
Date:5/13/2010

tern American forests during the last century, and, more currently, the Phytophthora cinnamomi fungus threatening native forests throughout Australia. Other fungal pathogens have been responsible for the epidemic leading to the Irish potato famine in the 1840s and, more currently, the stem rust disease of wheat, first identified in Uganda in 1998 and now threatening North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The paper's conclusions were recently cited as a part of evidence provided by the journal's editor to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on The Impact of Spending Cuts on Science and Scientific Research. "It's a good example of how research on an apparently esoteric area of science speciation can unexpectedly produce insights that potentially have social and economic importance," says Paul Craze, TREE's acting editor.

"New ways of understanding the emergence of novel disease organisms are being developed by applying ideas from fundamental research on the factors influencing the origin of species (speciation)," Craze wrote in his testimony for the evidentiary sessions held in February 2010. "This has only been possible due to the large body of basic, theoretical knowledge that has been developed on speciation; it is almost impossible to imagine how a specific application to disease organisms could have been used to drive research in this area."

The conclusions could be applied to other pathogens, including nematodes, bacteria and viruses because they share many traits with fungal plant pathogens that could cause ecological speciation by host shifts.

"If we are to fully understand emerging diseases, we recommend thinking differently about life-history traits to tailor models based on specificities of pathogens," the authors write.


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Contact: Catherine Crawley
ccrawley@nimbios.org
865-974-9350
National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS)
Source:Eurekalert

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