history of mycology and plant pathology

History of phytopathology

  • Plant diseases are known to human since the Roman empire (270 BC – 476 AD). They worshiped Robigus (God of wheat) in a great festival Robigalia to protect the wheat from destructive red dust (now known as rust of wheat). In this festival they scarified red dog to the god of wheat.
  • This misleading thought was also encouraged by religious leaders. People were of thought that, diseases were because of displeasure of gods, evil spirits or unfavorable positions of stars or moons. Mildews, blights and blasts are also described in early Biblical writings (in the books of Amos, Deuteronomy and Kings I in the Old Testament).
  • Aristotle, Plato's student, recorded plant diseases as early as 350 B.C., and his colleague Theophrastus observed and speculated about diseases of cereals, legumes, and trees.
  • Since Aristotle’s time for up to 2000 years little was known about the plant pathology. Many naturalists have come from time to time in western world, but these naturalists were hampered by the Christian churches.

  • It was in 1665, Robert Hooke illustrated the rose rust, a plant-pathogenic fungal disease.
  • The scientific knowledge of plant diseases started only after the invention of crude microscope in 1675 by a Dutch cloth merchant and lens grinder, Antony van Leeuwenhoek. He had observed bacteria in 1683 and his microscope has opened the eyes of the world to see through the galaxy of microbes.
  • In 1728, Duhamel de Monceau describe the saffron disease of crocus in France caused by fungus Rhizoctonia. He describes this as contagious, which could spread among the plants and cause epidemics (basis of germ theory of disease). Unfortunately, his work received almost no attention and his theory was fade-out.
  • In 1743, J. T. Needham first described plant-parasitic nematodes in wheat galls.
  • In 1729, P. A. Micheli in Italy studied many fungi. He has conducted germination experiments and showed that, "seeds" of fungi grew and produced more "seeds."
  • In 1755, Mathieu Tillet, in France, proved experimentally that wheat bunt is a contagious disease. He observed that the disease could be prevented by treatment of seeds.

  • In 1807, Isaac Benedict from Switzerland proved conclusively that bunt of wheat can be controlled by dipping seed in copper sulfate. Just like Duhamel he was unfortunate and his great contribution was rejected by the authorities.
  • During 1830 to 1850 late blight of potato appeared in the United States and Western Europe. It has destroyed potato crop in Ireland during 1845 to 1849. As a result, a million people died of malnutrition and starvation. Also, similar number people emigrated from Ireland to the United States and Canada. This tragedy forced the scientists to investigate the late blight of potato and find measures to control it.
  • It was Heinrich Anton De Bary, a medical doctor, who had studied about the late blight of potato. He had studied and elucidated the life cycle Phytophthora infestans (earlier known as Peronospora infestans) causing devastation of late blight of potato. He is considered as Father of Mycology and Plant Pathology

  • In 1858 first plant pathology text was published by Julius Gotthelf Kuhn in Germany.
  • Robert Hartig, another German devoted his life to the study of forest tree diseases and published two books in 1874 and 1882. He is also called as Father of Forest Pathology.
  • In 1884, Robert Koch provided a series of rules to prove that a disease is caused by microbes, which is known as Koch's postulates. In 1885, Frenchman P. M. A. Millardet discovered Bordeaux mixture/Bordo mix (first fungicide) to control the downy mildew of grapes.


Content first created on 19-08-2021
last updated on 02-09-2021