History Of Plant Pathology
While early civilizations were well aware that plants were attacked by diseases, it was not until the invention of the first microscope that people began to understand the real causes of these diseases. There are references in the Bible to blights, blasts, and mildews. Aristotle wrote about plant diseases in 350 B.C. and Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.) theorized about cereal and other plant diseases. During the Middle Ages in Europe, ergot fungus infected grain and Shakespeare mentions wheat mildew in one of his plays.
After Anton von Leeuwenhoek constructed a microscope in 1683, he was able to view organisms, including protozoa and bacteria, not visible to the naked eye. In the eighteenth century, Duhumel de Monceau described a fungus disease and demonstrated that it could be passed from plant to plant, but his discovery was largely ignored. About this same time, nematodes were described by several English scientists and by 1755 the treatment of seeds to prevent a wheat disease was known.
In the nineteenth century, Ireland suffered a devastating potato famine due to a fungus that caused late blight of potatoes. At this time, scientists began to take a closer look at plant diseases. Heinrich Anton DeBary, known as the father of modern plant pathology, published a book identifying fungi as the cause of a variety of plant diseases. Until this time, it was commonly believed that plant diseases arose spontaneously from decay and that the fungi were caused by this spontaneously generated disease. DeBary supplanted this theory of spontaneously generated diseases with the germ theory of disease. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century scientists working in many different countries, including Julian Gotthelf Kühn, Oscar Brefeld, Robert Hartig, Thomas J. Burrill, Robert Koch, Louis Pasteur, R. J. Petri, Pierre Millardet, Erwin F. Smith, Adolph Mayer, Dimitri Ivanovski, Martinus Beijerinck, and Hatsuzo Hashimoto, made important discoveries about specific diseases that attacked targeted crops.
During the twentieth century advances were made in the study of nematodes. In 1935 W. M. Stanley was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work with the tobacco mosaic virus. By 1939, virus particles could be seen under the new electron microscope. In the 1940s fungicides were developed and in the 1950s nematicides were produced. In the 1960s Japanese scientist Y. Doi discovered mycoplasmas, organisms that resemble bacteria but lack a rigid cell wall, and in 1971, T. O. Diener discovered viroids, organisms smaller than viruses.