Physiological phytopathology: Origin and evolution of a scientific discipline

  • U. Kutschera
  • U. Hossfeld


In 1860, the German biologist Anton de Bary (1831-1888) elucidated the life cycle of the pathogenic oomycete Phytophthora infestans, which causes late blight in potatoes and was responsible for severe famines during the 1840s. In a book on this topic published 150 years ago, DE BARY (1861) established the scientific discipline of physiological plant pathology. Here we summarize the life and scientific achievements of Anton de Bary, who coined the terms “symbiosis” and “parasitism”, with reference to Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) principle of descent with modification by means of natural selection. Then, we outline de Bary’s discovery of the cause of the wheat stem rust disease, which is attributable to infections with the fungus Puccinia graminis. Since ongoing pathogen-host plant co-evolution is well documented in nature, we conclude that “Nothing in phytopathology makes sense except in the light of Darwinian evolution”. Finally, we describe the value of basic research in the plant sciences with reference to practical applications, such as the maintenance and enhancement of crop yields and food quality.