It’s 2013, and scientists are working to untangle the precise identity of the pathogen that caused Ireland’s devastating Great Famine. Potato blight is known to have precipitated the tragedy, but only now can the researchers pinpoint the specific strain of the disease. And the answer has come as a complete surprise.
Humans first cultivated the potato between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago in what is now the border area between southern Peru and northern Bolivia. And it was the Spanish who brought the vegetable to Europe after they’d conquered the Incas in the late 16th century. The new crop was of great benefit, too, as some estimates state that the potato was responsible for around 25 percent of population growth in Europe, Asia and Africa between 1700 and 1900.