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      PCR amplification of the Irish potato famine pathogen from historic specimens.

      Nature

      Base Sequence, Biological Specimen Banks, DNA, Mitochondrial, DNA, Ribosomal, History, 19th Century, History, 20th Century, Humans, Ireland, Molecular Sequence Data, Phytophthora, genetics, Plant Diseases, history, microbiology, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Solanum tuberosum, Starvation

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          Abstract

          Late blight, caused by the oomycete plant pathogen Phytophthora infestans, is a devastating disease of potato and was responsible for epidemics that led to the Irish potato famine in 1845 (refs 1,2,3,4,5). Before the 1980s, worldwide populations of P. infestans were dominated by a single clonal lineage, the US-1 genotype or Ib mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotype, and sexual reproduction was not documented outside Mexico, the centre of diversity of the pathogen. Here we describe the amplification and sequencing of 100-base-pair fragments of DNA from the internal transcribed spacer region 2 from 28 historic herbarium samples including Irish and British samples collected between 1845 and 1847, confirming the identity of the pathogen. We amplified a variable region of mtDNA that is present in modern Ib haplotypes of P. infestans, but absent in the other known modern haplotypes (Ia, IIa and IIb). Lesions in samples tested were not caused by the Ib haplotype of P. infestans, and so theories that assume that the Ib haplotype is the ancestral strain need to be re-evaluated. Our data emphasize the importance of using historic specimens when making inferences about historic populations.

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          Most cited references 13

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          Neandertal DNA Sequences and the Origin of Modern Humans

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            Detection of 400-year-old Yersinia pestis DNA in human dental pulp: an approach to the diagnosis of ancient septicemia.

            Ancient septicemic plague epidemics were reported to have killed millions of people for 2 millenniums. However, confident diagnosis of ancient septicemia solely on the basis of historical clinical observations is not possible. The lack of suitable infected material has prevented direct demonstration of ancient septicemia; thus, the history of most infections such as plague remains hypothetical. The durability of dental pulp, together with its natural sterility, makes it a suitable material on which to base such research. We hypothesized that it would be a lasting refuge for Yersinia pestis, the plague agent. DNA extracts were made from the dental pulp of 12 unerupted teeth extracted from skeletons excavated from 16th and 18th century French graves of persons thought to have died of plague ("plague teeth") and from 7 ancient negative control teeth. PCRs incorporating ancient DNA extracts and primers specific for the human beta-globin gene demonstrated the absence of inhibitors in these preparations. The incorporation of primers specific for Y. pestis rpoB (the RNA polymerase beta-subunit-encoding gene) and the recognized virulence-associated pla (the plasminogen activator-encoding gene) repeatedly yielded products that had a nucleotide sequence indistinguishable from that of modern day isolates of the bacterium. The specific pla sequence was obtained from 6 of 12 plague skeleton teeth but 0 of 7 negative controls (P < 0.034, Fisher exact test). A nucleic acid-based confirmation of ancient plague was achieved for historically identified victims, and we have confirmed the presence of the disease at the end of 16th century in France. Dental pulp is an attractive target in the quest to determine the etiology of septicemic illnesses detected in ancient corpses. Molecular techniques could be applied to this material to resolve historical outbreaks.
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              Panglobal distribution of a single clonal lineage of the Irish potato famine fungus.

               B Cohen,  W E Fry,  S. Goodwin (1994)
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                11395772
                10.1038/35079606

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