Plant Pathologist

On a typical science class when getting to the topic of sickness, typically, kids would ask their teachers when humans get sick, they go to a doctor and animals go to a veterinarian but where do plants go when they get sick? Is there such a thing as a plant hospital? Do plants get sick at all? Perhaps, those kids were asking the wrong person as probably their teachers would dismiss those questions as kids’ babble. Perhaps, if those kids have asked a Plant Pathologist, they would have slept out of boredom right on their seats from hearing countless scientific names of fungi, viruses, oomycetes, bacteria, protozoa, phytoplasmas, nematodes and other pathogenic agents.

Plant Pathologists are botanist but they specialize in diseases that affect plant health caused by pathogens and their agents. Studying plant diseases is important because humans depend heavily on plants for food, medicine and raw materials. Like humans, plants give telltale signs that they are sick. Plant infestation comes in many forms and one of the jobs of Plant Pathologists is to lookout for these symptoms because some pathogens can be treated if detected and identified at the first signs of infestation.

Like for example, the pathogen that causes the so-called late blight, a water mold that feast on potato plants, are hard to detect because they usually attack the potato tubers which are buried underground. If the pathogens would become visible on its leaves, it means that the microorganisms have already done its damage. For the plant that was Infected, no amount of treatment can save it but for the rest of the crops not yet infected, the pathologist in charge would know how to quarantine and minimize damage, if and only if, detection was found before a full-blown epidemic erupted. Like in this case where the infesting agent is an already identified pathogen, more or less, the pathologist treating the blight already knows what to do depending on how far out the plague has spread. However, if let’s say, the microorganism causing the blight turned out to be a new strain and did not respond to known effective treatments, the Pathologist would study the pathogen inside the laboratory to take a closer look at the pathogen. The Pathologist would naturally identify what kind of microorganism it is. This kind of study could take years as so many tests are needed to fully comprehend the nature of a newly discovered pathogen. To give out a complete study, Pathologists would need to culture the pathogens so they would not run out of test subjects. To know how to treat and fight these microorganisms, a pathologist would need to study how these microorganisms propagate, what environment do they thrive in and their thresholds, how long is their life span, what inherent quality of the plants have that make them susceptible to these organisms, how they react to changes in the environment and most of all, the damage they do to their hosts. When they have finished what is there to learn about their subject, they then document these findings and publish them.

In almost any scientific community, publication of one’s findings is essential to let their peers know what has been done, however, for Plant Pathologist and other disciplines studying pathogens it is doubly essential to let other pathologists know of their findings so that in cases of an epidemic outbreak, other scientists would have immediate sources of reference.