COLLEGE STATION Spinach with fungus, malnourished cabbage, spots on cauliflower and peaches injured by frost. No matter the malady, a group of people who fashioned themselves as "plant doctors" assembled for the first time 100 years ago this week to discuss those and other plant problems.
Their gathering in Boston set in motion a new field of science called plant pathology, whose researchers would help the young U.S. establish a healthy agriculture industry, according to a Texas AgriLife Research scientist.
But studying the diseases of plants proved almost easier than launching a new professional identity, according to Dr. Karen-Beth Scholthof, AgriLife Research plant pathologist. Scholthof, and her collaborator Dr. Paul Peterson of Clemson University, examined the creation of the American Phytopathological Society in an article in the January 2010 journal Phytopathology.
Scholthof became interested in the history of science more than a decade ago and became passionate about archival research.
"What I find going back through the records is that a lot of work was done, published and then lost track of," Scholthof said. "There is a lot of room to reinterpret what has happened (since the early studies)."
This research has increased her awareness of the history of the viruses she normally studies and also helps her bring new ideas to the classroom.
Scientists in the U.S. began to recognize and study the diseases of plants in the late 1880s when all research concerning plants was lumped into botany. By 1908, science had evolved to include microscopes and cell-staining techniques that enabled researchers to take a closer look at the diseases that impact plants, Scholthof explained.
"They were also part of a new emphasis on plant morphology and physiology instead of the earlier focus on taxonomic classification," she wrote. "This scientific wave of 'new botany' brought plants into the laboratory as
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Texas A&M AgriLife Communications