The smell of rain-soaked earth permeated the logged-over clearing in the woods in mid-May as my friend Mike and I peered closely at the ground and walked slowly. We were hunting mushrooms.
Mike’s more adept eyes spotted a cluster of light brown, honeycombed caps. He sliced the morel mushrooms with his knife. After a while we filled a small bucket, which we took back to Mike’s mom. She battered and fried them and, as a teenager in northeast Washington years ago, I had my first taste of the rich flavor of the wild Northwest mushroom.
Why are plants immune to most of the diseases surrounding them in the environment? Lee Hadwiger, Washington State University professor of plant pathology, has been wrestling with this question most of his career.
Were it not for a commonplace but mysterious trait called non-host resistance (NHR), plants would be constantly attacked by fungi, bacteria, and other pathogens swarming in the air, soil, and bodies. For the most part, plants are immune to those challenges because NHR gives them their robust and durable immunity to the myriad pathogens challenging them.
In the January issue of Phytopathology, Hadwiger and his colleague, USDA Agricultural Research Service plant pathologist … » More …
The case started a few years ago when a farmer approached seed pathologist Lindsey du Toit at WSU Mount Vernon wondering what was damaging his spinach seed crop out in the field. He had planted on clean ground that hadn’t had spinach before. He wondered if maybe the stock seed had a problem.
“It didn’t make sense,” says du Toit, explaining that what happened to the plants didn’t fit with the known diseases. At the time, du Toit and one of her graduate students were looking at fungal pathogens in the seeds of spinach plants. About 75 percent of the spinach seed grown in … » More …