Multipurpose Pathogens

Object of the Month: 07/2008

What is it?:

Corn smut is a fungal infection that causes large, mushroomlike tumors on corncobs.

A bacterium inserted part of its DNA into the cells of a rose plant and caused this growth of abnormal tissue, called a crown gall.

Ergot fungus infects rye and other grasses.

Where was it collected:

All specimens collected by Todd Burnes, Dept. of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota

Plant pathogens
Plant pathogensCourtesy SMM

Plant diseases often affect more than just plants themselves—they can turn a forest to kindling, drive countries to starvation, or even dangerously change the way our minds work. Pant pathology is the study of plant diseases, and the first step in stopping them.

Diseased plants are usually separated from healthy ones and destroyed, although sometimes other uses can be found for them—drugs derived from ergot fungus have been used to treat migraine headaches and Parkinson’s disease, the bacteria that cause crown galls are used extensively in genetic engineering, and corn smut is cultivated in Mexico and sold as the delicacy huitlacoche (WHEAT-la-COACH-ay).