Ergot of rye – Infecting Plants or People?

by Ben Shaw – Sustainable Plant Systems Major, Agronomy Specialization

Stephen Patton. University of Kentucky Agricultural Communication Services, Bugwood.org

Stephen Patton. University of Kentucky Agricultural Communication Services, Bugwood.org

What causes it?

Claviceps purpurea is the pathogen responsible for ergot. It thrives in areas of high moisture, but also requires a freezing winter period of 4-8 weeks. This is for their sclerotia to increase survival and reduce competition because most fungi will not withstand that. This, in my opinion, is just incredible that it has adapted to colder temperatures to increase it’s survival.

What does it do?

Ergot is a disease that infects the ovaries of cereal and grain plants. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this disease has caused numerous outbreaks in humans and animals commonly known as ergotism, by eating the disease along with the rye flour. “Holy Fire”, as it was called, would cause horrible symptoms including extreme hallucinations, convulsions, loss of limbs, excruciating burning pains, and death was certain if enough was ingested. I cannot imagine the pain that these people went through, and to top it off they had no idea what was causing it.

Is it still an issue today?

Yes ergot is still an issue facing agriculture today. However, it is due to downgraded loads and in livestock rather than “Holy Fire” in humans. According to The Western Producer, 50% of wheat from Alberta was downgraded due to ergot in 2015.

How can we control it?

A good crop rotation with a non-susceptible host will prevent the disease from returning. Deep plowing will also bury the sclerotia and prevent them from germinating next spring.

I have never been exposed to ergot, however don’t think it can’t affect you. Keep your eyes peeled and alert for any signs of this disease, unless you want to experience “Holy Fire” first hand.

Sources Cited:

Schumann, Gail L. APS. “Ergot of Rye.”  http://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/lessons/fungi/ascomycetes/Pages/Ergot.aspx

Stephen Patton. University of Kentucky Agricultural Communication Services, Bugwood.org  http://www.ipmimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5369714

Cross, Brian. The Western Producer. “Experts fear ergot may become perennial problem.”  http://www.producer.com/2015/04/experts-fear-ergot-may-become-perennial-problem/

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

 

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The Real Culprit of California’s Wildfires

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

By: Adam Doklovic, Agribusiness and Applied Economics | Mansfield, Ohio

In the past few years most of California has been in a massive drought, which has created apocalyptic looking wildfires. According to Angela Johnston, a journalist from a local radio station in San Francisco, California has had over 5,000 wildfires this year alone, and it’s not even considered wildfire season yet!

This summer has been extremely difficult in not only preventing wildfires but also containing them. Why have these fires been able to spread so easily? The question should be more focused with whom than of why. Now we ask, who has been the culprit to allow the rapid spread of these wildfires, none other than a beetle that is only 5 millimeters long.

The Western Pine Beetle is native to many parts of the world but here in the United States the beetle has been taking advantage of California’s drought. Just as when a human is dehydrated, he/she becomes susceptible to a greater number of health issues, the same goes for trees. The Western Pine Beetle is a species of bark beetle that can infest trees that are stressed.  When they infest a tree already struggling with dehydration, the tree has little chance to survive and usually ends up dying.

In California alone the Western Pine Beetle is estimated to have killed over 66 million trees. This has created a lot of standing firewood to allow a massive fire spread in a rapid amount of time.

Next time you turn on the news and the media is blaming global warming, or a rogue campfire for a massive forest fire that is engulfing California just remember that there could be other factors at play, even a microscopic beetle.

Adam Doklovic is currently an undergraduate student at Ohio State and experienced the California drought first hand while interning with the USDA in the Bay Area during summer 2016.

Sources:

Dead trees are fueling California wildfires, but what’s killing the trees? (KALW San Francisco)

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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