Cyanogenic Plants Add Fuel to the GM Fire

by Rebecca Phillips, Biology Major

A case of 15 cows mysteriously dying on a ranch near Austin, TX underscores the dangerous consequences of ignorance surrounding environmental impacts on plant chemistry.

In June, 2012, a man named Jerry Abel let his herd of 18 cows out to graze on his ranch. After a few hours “only three were still alive” (Blum). Abel reported the strange deaths to his local news station at which point they prematurely linked the deaths to “genetically modified grass”.
CBS ran with the story and pretty soon anti-GM bloggers and activists were running amok. What they failed to research; however, is that the tainted grass in question was a “decades old hybrid grass” known as Tifton 85.

Tifton 85, like many other plants, is cyanogenic—meaning it stores cyanide in an inactive, sugar-bound form. However, when the hybrid is put under stress, such as the draught occurring at the time of the poisonings, the bonds can break releasing toxic levels of cyanide.
This case illustrates how quick society has become to place blame on GM crops and plants, even at the expense of accurate information that could prevent another poisoning such as this from happening.



I have always been extremely fascinated in almost every topic in biology. I am currently trying to decide between a career in archeology or primatology. I have a dog who is convinced he is a feline (see photo below).

cat and dog

“The beautiful and difficult thing about Biology is things happen”

A light overview of one of today’s deadliest agricultural mishaps.

by Hannah Van Zant, EEOB

Amongst the obvious stressors of farmers regarding drought, yields, and how to go about a successful financial year with their crops overlays a thick fog of twists and turns which has seemed to both physically and mentally setback those who commercially grow soybeans.

Amongst the controversial and highly discussed headlines of the past year and reaching back into 2016 has seemingly hidden from the common layman the news of the hyped herbicide, Dicamba.  Provided by Monsanto and abundantly approved by the EPA, Dicamba is advertised as a ‘selectively killing herbicide’ by those who spray it, and as an “airborne menace” by those who are affected by it. Quite an opposing range of blunt descriptions for just one commonly used herbicide.

The unintentional, yet still readily occurring, exposure of Dicamba to nonresistant soybeans has resulted in the abnormal leaf development of ‘cupping’ and the irreversible, and very much guaranteed, death of the legume.

There’s no shortage of complaints on the internet constructed by farmers who have had their fill of the drifting herbicide and all it has offered them – poisoned soybeans and a drained bank account.  That’s right, Insurance companies can’t cover the effects of herbicide when it spreads through drift. More simply put, if you neighbor chooses to spray Dicamba on their resistant crops and you happen to have soybeans in your field that year, that cool breeze you feel as you walk out the door is not doing you or your wallet any favors for that year, nor for the years to come.

Therefore, if you’re a farmer with a good working and cooperative relationship with your neighbors, consider yourself in luck. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the case for the majority.  A murder on the Arkansas-Missouri line has already been committed due to the effects of one farmer’s (one might say irresponsible) spraying of Dicamba next to his farmer’s nonresistant soybeans.

The most important question now remains – Can this all be avoided? According to Monsanto, it can be. In fact, they say it should and should have been avoided from the very beginning.

When Ty Witten of Monsanto was interviewed regarding the herbicide use, he explained that the growers are simply applying the pesticide incorrectly.  In a different article provided by AgWeb, UA Extension agent Robert Goodson explained that, “Some guys are doing it absolutely right by the label and are still ending up with Dicamba on a neighbor’s crops through volatility.”

Witten also offered the insightful excuse that Dicamba is getting unfairly blamed, seeing as how other herbicides can mask themselves as Dicamba. He said they “had been seeing some of that.”

On an end note, I will leave you with the all-encompassing quote given by Monsanto’s North American Crop Protection Systems Lead regarding the devastation of Dicamba-affected farmers from the draining of funds and losses of nearly 30% of their yields due to the decisions of a neighbor and the event of a light breeze.

“The beautiful and difficult thing about Biology is things happen.”

What do you all think? Please comment below.

About me

My name is Hannah Van Zant and I am an Evolution and Ecology major at The Ohio State University.

Amongst other things, I enjoy being out and about enjoying music and exploring all that life offers here in Columbus, as well as staying in and enjoying the last few days of my HBONOW free-trial.


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.


The Threat of Water

by Avery Menear

Avery is a third-year Animal Science major at The Ohio State University. She plans to become a zookeeper when she graduates and knows how important plants and plant systems are to the environment and the animals that live in it.

oak leaf

Figure 1 : Penn State Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology Archives, Penn State University,

A Dailymail article caught my eye this morning. It was titled “Plant disease ravaging olive groves in Spain could threaten oak trees if it reaches Britain…” and out of pure curiosity I clicked on it to read about what it was.

In Britain, broadleaf trees are dangerously susceptible to the disease and this European country fears that at some point it will make its way over from Spain.

The disease Xylella fastidiosa is most commonly known as bacterial leaf scorch because of the way that it rots the leaves. The pattern it leaves behind is almost like someone to a flame to just the outside of the leaves.

Xylella fastidiosa gets its name from the area of the plant that it affects.

The bacteria live in the water systems or xylem of the plant. Too much of the bacteria and the plant’s water supply is compromised.

It doesn’t just affect oak trees though. One of the biggest problems with this disease is its ability to wipe out entire groves of olive vines.

This disease has been found in North America, Taiwan, Italy, Spain and France. Britain’s worry is that their regulations with incoming plats are not strict enough to vet out the disease before it arrives.

  1. fastidiosa is spread by insects that carry the bacterium with them. Currently there is no cure for this disease, only prevention.

For now, all Britain can do is try and make sure that no infected plants make it over into their country.

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.

Gray Mold: A Blessing and a Curse

By Brant Wickline, Sustainable Plant Systems

I started learning about this disease in my PLNTPTH 3001 class this year. It is a very interesting fungus and I hope you enjoy learning about it.

Let’s first look at how any type of disease occurs. We use what we call the disease pyramid. The four sides of the pyramid include…

  • Susceptible Host
  • Virulent (can cause disease) Pathogen
  • Conducive Environment
  • Time

It’s important to add in time because unlike an injury to a plant a disease takes time to develop in a plant

*Without one of these sides of the pyramid the disease will not occur.

Now we are going to look at the sides of the pyramid for the disease of Gray Mold

  • Susceptible Host —- Grapes
  • Virulent Pathogen —– Botrytis cinera
  • Conducive Environment —- Hot and Humid Climate
  • And don’t forget time

In this disease, a fungus grows on soft berries like strawberries and grapes. It sucks the moisture out of the fruit and leaves behind what is left which is mostly sugar.

The title of the blog  said blessing and curse. This, so far, has just shown how this fungus is a curse. How could it be a blessing?

This sugar that is left on what is left of the fruit is used to make a very highly concentrated wine. If you’ve ever heard of Botrytised Wine this is where it comes from. I have to warn you though, it is a very expensive wine, however, don’t let that distract you from how delicious and sweet this dessert wine is.

The best vintners learn to infect their plants with Botrytis cinera and harvest their fruit at the precise moment in order to make this wine. If they are too late then they will lose their entire crop.

Lots of fruit are susceptible to this fungus. With the growing population, we need to be able to produce more food to feed everyone. Diseases like this affect everyone nationwide.


About me

My grandparents own a small local florist and garden center in Xenia, Ohio. I a have been around plants all my life. Sustainable Plant Systems was the perfect major for someone like me. Hope you enjoyed. 🙂



Species of Fungus in Ornamentals Now in Harvestable Crops

Top photo: Spruce Decline by Phomopsis sp. Lower: Tip Blight by Phomopsis juniperovora

by Bryce Axelrod – Sustainable Plant Systems – Horticulture

Phomopsis (Phomopsis sp.) fungal disease has many different species that negatively impact multiple plant species. Most are ornamentals or large landscape trees or shrubs with the rest being a few important harvestable crops.

Susceptible plants include: spruces (Colorado Blue, White & Norway), junipers (Eastern Red Cedar, Creeping Juniper, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Savin Juniper and other Cypresses), arborvitae, Japanese cedar, Douglasfir, true firs, yews, forsythia, viburnum, American Elm, hickory, maple, oak, privet, highbush blueberries, grapes, and soybeans.

The species infecting spruces leads to development of cankers and dieback of more mature limbs whereas the species infecting junipers and other cypresses (P. juniperovora) is known to only have impact on new growth (this includes arborvitae, Japanese cedar, Douglasfir, true firs and yews).

Highbush blueberries adopt characteristics of each in that the infecting species (P. vaccinii) effects new growth as well as forms cankers, although the blight is an overall tip blight, including flowers and fruit.

Phomopsis sp. is believed to cause gall formation on forsythia, viburnum, American elm, hickory, maple, oak and privet.

  • viticola infects grapes and creates lesions on new leaves and stems, eventually moving to mature leaves as well as small, black spots at base of developing shoots and shriveling fruit.
  • longicolla infects seeds of soybean plants, making them shriveled and elongated, cracking the coat and making them white and chalky. Each of these species of Phomopsis result in twig & blossom blight, the formation of cankers, leaf spots and fruit spots/rot.

Across the spectrum of Phomopsis species, means of overwintering and spreading is identical.

Eventually, fruiting bodies called pycnidia are produced and release spores called conidia.

The spores overwinter and spread further by rain/splashing or wind in spring and even if the spores do not necessarily spread, they can remain viable within diseased tissue for as long as two years, which is why it may not seem to be as prevalent as a previous season.

While Phomopsis does not pose a huge threat to too many plants, it does effect some valuable, ornamental and crop species.

Methods of control focus primarily on physical/biological management and include:

  • Pruning infected branches
  • Disposal of infected cuts
  • Resistant species/cultivars
  • Avoid planting in poorly drained, poorly circulated and shaded areas
  • Avoid wounding/injuring while planting
  • Sterilize pruning tools

These are all examples of basic horticultural practices. With the correct planning, if the landscape is monitored and correct action is taken, there is some chance of no issues with the fungus (and others) in our valued crop and ornamental species.

About Me:

Before transferring to Ohio State, my focus in horticulture was in Landscape Design & Management. While I enjoy the designing aspect of landscaping very much and would like to keep expanding in that area, I also really enjoy the care & management aspect of it as well. One of my favorite trees is the Colorado Blue Spruce and my parents have one on their property. I figured taking the time to learn a little more about exactly what Phomopsis is and what other plants it has an effect on would be nothing but beneficial. Obtaining knowledge of how to get the most longevity out of my landscape is a very important factor to me and I cannot wait to eventually have a landscape of my own.


Oak Wilt Disease: How will our wildlife respond?

white oak

White oak (Quercus alba). Photo by David Stephens,

by Erik Hull, Sustainable Plant Systems-Agronomy major

Oak Wilt is a major disease in Ohio affecting our oak trees. I chose this topic as my local plant disease because I am very interested in the effects it puts on wildlife.  The oak wilt fungus infects the vessels of the plant, and can plug them up stopping the uptake of water and nutrients, leading to death.

One of my favorite animals, whitetail deer, are a huge consumer of the white oak acorns.  The acorns provide lots of nutrients such as protein for the animal to grow healthy. Discussing the importance of the effects of oak wilt is important to me. Around my area, hunting is a big thing for us. It brings a lot of revenue for the county. Lots of people come from different states to hunt where I live. The increase of oak wilt in white oaks could have a huge impact on more than just the whitetail population, but on the county.

Going back to the disease, it is important for forest managers or land owners to recognize when they have this disease present. Oak Wilt can start at one tree, and infect many others in a short amount of time. The deadly fungus can spread from diseased to healthy trees in just two days. A beetle, called the Oak Bark Beetle could be the cause of this, transferring the pathogen from tree to tree.

In conclusion, I think it is very important that we know how to detect the early signs of oak wilt disease and know how to eliminate it. Acorns are a very important crop for our wildlife, and with oak trees being the host of the acorns, it is important to be able to identify these things.

About the author:

I am a senior at The Ohio State University, studying Sustainable Plant Systems with a specialization in agronomy. I have a love for wildlife, as my minor is wildlife management. I grew up in an old farmhouse about an hour north east of Columbus, where my dad taught my brothers and I the importance of the land and how to respect it.


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.

Fence Eaters

bald faced hornet and nest

Photos: Nic Petrykowski

By Nic Petrykowski, Plant Pathology major

Over the summer I spotted a hornet like insect appearing to eat the wood off the fence surrounding my vegetable garden. As the summer progressed many hornets began to eat the wood off the fence it began to look like someone had powerwashed certain sections of the fence. At this point I became intrigued about the insect and typed in the following description “Black and white hornet Ohio” into Google and found a result that showed what appeared to be the same insect. This insect is the bald-faced hornet. The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is not actually a true hornet but is actually a yellowjacket. The “hornet” is a large, black and white eusocial wasp that is found in North America.

It turns out that the wasps were not eating the fence; bald-faced hornets live in large colonial nests. All members of the nest are descendants of the queen. The nest is constructed from wood that is chewed up and mixed with saliva. This forms a grey papery material. The maximum occupancy of the nest is 100 to 400 wasps. The nest starts off small and gradually gets larger throughout the summer.

At this point of my research I discovered that bald-faced hornets ovipositors function as stingers. These stingers can be used to repeatedly sting potential predators without causing damage to themselves as a well. the venom is capable of stimulating pain receptors of the potential predator. It was the following detail that I found the most concerning, hornets can eject venom from their ovipositors into the eyes of humans or any potential predator that disturbs the nest. Fortunately, the nests are located high in the canopys of trees, and only attack when the nest is disturbed. This quelled my concern. I am curious where the nest is and would like to obseve if from a safe distance. There may be more than one nest judging by the amount of hornets I see on the fence every day!

About the author

Hi, I’m Nic Petrykowski and I am a Plant Pathology Major. I recently presented a research poster “Horizontal gene transfer of nitrate assimilation genes may facilitate shifts in fungal ecology” at the Richard J. and Martha D. Denman undergraduate research forum. I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school.


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.


Pesticide Resistance and Controlling it

by Randy Hutton

Pesticide resistance: everyone has heard of it, and it’s a fairly self-explanatory term. However, what most people don’t realize, is how much of a threat it really could be to our agriculture in the coming years.

Pesticides, like antibiotics, are chemicals used to combat harmful pests that can damage or kill crops like wheat, fruits, and vegetables. Also, similarly to antibiotics, the harmful agents these pesticides are manufactured to kill can develop a resistance to the chemicals, rendering the pesticides essentially useless.

This same concept can be applied to pesticides as well. According to Michigan State University, what happens is that when pests come into contact with a pesticide, they die. But, when a pest who happens to have a genetic alteration that allows them to thrive even in the presence of a pesticide, that pest can then reproduce and the chances are that eventually the resistant gene will be passed on to the offspring, furthering the aggregate resistance of the entire population of pests.

To combat this basic natural selection, farmers can manage the resistance of pests or delay it by selectively applying pesticides, using them sparingly only as needed. Additionally, rotating different chemicals into the pesticides can help in delaying resistance by essentially keeping basic natural selection guessing. Another method that has been used to try to ease the load on pesticides is genetically modifying crops to be toxic for the pests, causing them to stop damaging or even going near the crops, as it will kill them.

I find the pesticide resistance problem to be not only important but in its infancy as an issue, causing it to go under the radar for a lot of people. However, I think that advancements in genetically modified crops are going to be instrumental in the pesticide problem in the coming years. Further, I believe that the technologies and methods that go into genetically modified crops could feasibly be translated into humans, eventually helping us with pathogen resistance.


My name is Randy McNeal Hutton, and I’m a fourth-year senior at Ohio State with a firm belief in science. I stand firm with scientific findings on most issues. Most notable of which are religion, medicine, and food. I find that we as people must buy into the scientific community if we want to progress as a species and avoid our eventual peril.

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.

A Brief Example on How Developing Countries are More Easily Affected By Plant Disease: Cochliobolus miyabeanus

by Nathan Bundy, Sustainable Plant Systems – Horticulture major

There are over 800 million people in the world that do not have enough food. Even crazier is that 10% of global food loss is due to plant diseases (

Cochliobolus miyabeanus or Brown Spot is a fungal disease that affects rice; which falls into this food loss statistic.  The Great Bengal Famine in 1943 caused an estimated two million deaths due to Brown Spot.

Even though crops in the US were infected at that time as well, we did not suffer from widespread famine. This is likely since the US population had a better infrastructure in place for combating famine producing plant diseases. In fact, during World War II, the United States government used Brown Spot as a biological weapon to attack Japan and kill their food supply (

As a result, one can draw a conclusion that diseases in these bulk crops are even more dangerous in developing countries where large populations rely heavily on these cereal grains for nutritional sustenance.  Aside from weaponry, one reason this plant disease is still existent is due to the globalization of agriculture that has allowed crops to grow in new areas far from their origin.

May areas are exposed to new diseases and are not equipped to fight the local pathogens. The scarier part is that this cycle is affecting less developed countries because they lack the infrastructure to treat things, like Brown Spot.

Furthermore, Cochliobolus miyabeanus is an example of a disease that thrives during droughts. Changing climates in areas that typically have bountiful rainfall may potentially allow Brown Spot to proliferate. Again, this will likely affect developing countries that do not have the means to treat drought properly.



Nathan Bundy is a junior at The Ohio State University majoring in Horticulture with a minor in Plant Pathology. Food security issues and their solutions are key motivators in his career choice. Nathan hopes to continue his education and service in the Midwest where he aspires to work in the greenhouse vegetable industry post- graduation.

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.

Vomitoxin on the Rise

by Marshall Downing, Agricultural Systems Management Major

Vomitoxin has been an issue for farmers for many years. Depending on weather conditions, vomitoxin seems to show up in a different location each year. In the 2016 growing season, vomitoxin was found all throughout the corn belt in the United States and has caused many problems close to home.

Vomitoxin is a type of mold that typically develops on wheat heads when there is wet weather while the plant is flowering or on corn ears when there is wet weather causing moisture to collect inside the husks around the ears. This mold causes symptoms like those of food poisoning when contaminated grains are eaten by humans or animals.

I live on a grain farm in northwest Ohio where we grow wheat, soybeans, and corn. The higher-than-normal levels of vomitoxin in corn last year caused many problems around the area where I live. I saw firsthand how vomitoxin affected our farm. It greatly limited where we were able to sell our corn because we had rather high levels of the mold. We had estimates of up to 17 parts per million (ppm) of vomitoxin in some of our corn, and an ethanol plant near us began docking the price of sold grain when the level of vomitoxin was above 2 ppm. As you can expect, this caused a lot of stress when it came to selling grain and trying to make a good profit for that year.

I quickly learned a major reason why vomitoxin was so stressful to deal with. Vomitoxin is usually not a visible disease. You cannot look at a field and see that it is contaminated. The only thing that a farmer can do is to keep the weather in mind while the window is open for vomitoxin to contaminate the plants. Farmers can only predict and guess if they will have vomitoxin based on the growth stages of their crops and the weather at later stages. Even then, a farmer cannot predict how much vomitoxin a field will contain. The only real solution is to test their harvested grain at an elevator and hope for the best.

The issue of vomitoxin made me realize how much I really wanted to be a farmer. Most people would never choose a career that involved gambling their income almost completely on the weather, but that only motivated me more to become a farmer like my family has been for generations.

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.