Evidence for presence of the founder Ia mtDNA haplotype of Phytophthora infestans in 19th century potato tubers from the Rothamsted archives
Late blight remained a significant disease for potato growers in Europe long after the famine of the 1840s. Of the four mitochondrial haplotypes of Phytophthora infestans, only the Ia mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotype has been identified previously in infected potato leaves from famine-era herbarium specimens collected in England, Ireland and Europe in the 19th century. Long-term soil fertility experiments were conducted on potato between 1876 and 1901 in Rothamsted to investigate effects of combinations of organic manures and mineral fertilizers on disease and yield. This report identifies for the first time the same Ia mtDNA haplotype of P. infestans in three diseased tubers from 1877 from the long-term Rothamsted trials, thus providing the earliest evidence of the presence of the founder Ia mtDNA haplotype of P. infestans in potato tubers in England. Soil amendments had a significant impact on disease and yield. A real-time PCR assay was used to detect and quantify P. infestans in tubers. The level of pathogen DNA was greatest in tubers from highest yielding plots that received combinations of inorganic nitrogenous and mineral fertilizers and least in tubers from plots with organic farmyard manures or non-nitrogenous mineral fertilizers. The Ia mtDNA haplotype was also confirmed from diseased potato leaves during the same time period. Thus, the founder Ia mtDNA haplotype survived in potato tubers after 1846 and was present over 30 years later in the UK.