Background and Need for Networks

Current potato production depends on a very narrow genetic base comprised of few varieties. For example, in North America there are only four or five varieties which dominate production. All the major potato varieties grown worldwide are susceptible to late blight. Developing late blight resistant potatoes is, therefore, crucial because potatoes are an important food and income source for poor people. If current trends continue, 40% of the world's potatoes will be harvested in the developing world by the year 2000. In these and other regions of the world, late blight is indeed a serious and increasing threat to the future of world food security. Worldwide migrations of this fungus and concurrent worsening of late blight problems during the 1980s and 1990s have mandated a much more serious attempt to solve the late blight problem worldwide.

Global collaboration through the development of networks to promote research and technology transfer on late blight control are important. There are many activities all over the world; one of them is the Global Initiative on Late Blight (GILB) which was conceived in 1995 by the International Potato Center (CIP) along with its national collaborators.31 However, eastern Europe is not yet fully involved in this initiative. A seriously underfunded initiative is PICTIPAPA (International Cooperative Program for Potato Late Blight) based in Mexico.

Eastern Europe is perhaps in greater need than any other region worldwide of establishing a stable, environmentally benign late blight management program. Potatoes are an important food crop, and late blight has been especially troublesome in the last decade. Although late blight can be controlled with massive amounts of protectant fungicides, the economies of eastern Europe may not allow such expenditures and the effects of fungicides on the environment are not completely known. Thus, knowledge of late blight epidemiology and the use of resistant potato germplasm are crucial.

The Toluca Valley in the highlands of central Mexico is the ancestral home of Phytophthora infestans, and contains a fungal population that is remarkably diverse and has been sexual for millennia. In contrast, the fungus was not reported from any other location until the mid-19th century, and until very recently, populations outside of Mexico were exclusively asexual. Recent worldwide migrations have suggested that the sexual reproduction which has occurred in the Toluca Valley will soon become a component of production systems worldwide. There is an urgent need to understand the basic biology of P. infestans in this sexual population. The results of these studies will contribute to the development of disease management programs worldwide.

The tremendously diverse population of P. infestans in Toluca is an underutilized resource due to lack of infrastructure in Mexico. This location should be utilized as a field lab for evaluating the stability of late blight suppression programs (including host resistance, cultural controls, biocontrols and fungicides). Funding is needed to strengthen the infrastructure in the Toluca Valley that can facilitate the activities of scientists worldwide and to initiate research done by resident scientists. Once an improved infrastructure is available, public and private agencies will want to utilize this infrastructure for addressing the stability of various breeding lines, fungicides and management procedures for late blight control.

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