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Plant Pathology

Department of Plant Pathology


Sample of Course Content

A Little Background

"The history of plant diseases is an important component of human culture and history. Yet, very few people know much about plants, food, or the pathogens we fight every day and every season. Most of us have lived in a time of abundant food - even food surpluses and low prices. But we also know that for much of the world getting enough food to eat is a daily challenge, and that famines still exist today. In this context it is very important for you to understand the vulnerability or susceptibility to harm or physical attack of the world's food supply. There is also a narrowing of the world's gene pool, and a continuing battle to stay just one step ahead of the new strains and races of pathogens showing up every season to destroy our crops and forests."

"This course is designed to provide you a historic account of a little known phenomenon and its impact on society and direct ties to human welfare. The course content will help you develop the big picture and learn the principles necessary to understand plant health in a world dominated by humans. Although rarely discussed in university classes, a basic understanding of food and fiber production is a valuable component of your college education. In addition, many of my colleagues in this field are concerned about the inability of the general public, as voters and citizens, to make informed decisions about controversial issues in food and agriculture."


"On August 12th, 1951 Dr. Jean Vieu in Pont St. Esprit, France was puzzled. He'd just returned from making a professional medical call. At first, he thought this was just another case of acute appendicitis because the patient complained of pain in the lower abdomen and tension in the abdominal wall. However, there were no other usual symptoms-no rigidities on the right side, and no instinctive flexing of the right knee. Instead of the usual fever, the patient had a low body temperature and cold fingertips. Yet, the strangest symptom of all was the wild babbling of the patient often present in hallucinations of dementia."

"The 3 doctors acted quickly and persuaded the Major to institute a house-to-house search for clues. The investigation uncovered one common element: all of the patients had eaten bread from the same bakery. Samples of this wheat bread were found in the homes and were sent to Marseilles for analysis."

"The people and the doctors did what they could to relieve the pain and suffering. Dozens of straitjackets were rushed into the town and had to be forcibly placed on the victims to prevent attempts of suicide. The doctors were harassed, overworked and worried about the attitude, fear, and superstition that had settled over Pont St. Esprit, as well as the anxious nation. Some of the villagers suspected that their government was inflicting mass poisoning on the people for obscure political reasons. Others accused the villiage idiot of having put a curse on the bread baker."

"Finally, the chief toxicologist of Marseilles sent his report to the town and the nation. The bread contained 20 alkaloid poisons, 3 of them very harmful, and all came from the same source. The poisons were found from a fungus growth that changed normal kernels of rye into purple colored structures called ergots."