Control of plant diseases is crucial to the reliable production of food, and it provides significant reductions in agricultural use of land, water, fuel and other inputs. Plants in both natural and cultivated populations carry inherent disease resistance, but there are numerous examples of devastating plant disease impacts such as Irish potato famine and chestnut blight, as well as recurrent severe plant diseases like rice blast, soybean cyst nematode, and citrus canker. However, disease control is reasonably successful for most crops. Disease control is achieved by use of plants that have been bred for good resistance to many diseases, and by plant cultivation approaches such as crop rotation, use of pathogen-free seed, appropriate planting date and plant density, control of field moisture, and pesticide use. Across large regions and many crop species, it is estimated that diseases typically reduce plant yields by 10% every year in more developed settings, but yield loss to diseases often exceeds 20% in less developed settings. Continuing advances in the science of plant pathology are needed to improve disease control, and to keep up with changes in disease pressure caused by the ongoing evolution and movement of plant pathogens and by changes in agricultural practices. Plant diseases cause major economic losses for farmers worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates indeed that pests and diseases are responsible for about 25% of crop loss. To solve this issue, new methods are needed to detect diseases and pests early, such as novel sensors that detect plant odours and spectroscopy and biophotonics that are able to diagnose plant health and metabolism.
Most phytopathogenic fungi belong to the Ascomycetes and the Basidiomycetes. The fungi reproduce both sexually and asexually via the production of spores and other structures. Spores may be spread long distances by air or water, or they may be soilborne. Many soil inhabiting fungi are capable of living saprotrophically, carrying out the part of their life cycle in the soil. These are facultative saprotrophs. Fungal diseases may be controlled through the use of fungicides and other agriculture practices. However, new races of fungi often evolve that are resistant to various fungicides. Biotrophic fungal pathogens colonize living plant tissue and obtain nutrients from living host cells. Necrotrophic fungal pathogens infect and kill host tissue and extract nutrients from the dead host cells. Significant fungal plant pathogens include:
The oomycetes are fungus-like organisms. They include some of the most destructive plant pathogens including the genus Phytophthora, which includes the causal agents of potato late blight and sudden oak death. Particular species of oomycetes are responsible for root rot.
Despite not being closely related to the fungi, the oomycetes have developed similar infection strategies. Oomycetes are capable of using effector proteins to turn off a plant's defenses in its infection process. Plant pathologists commonly group them with fungal pathogens.
Significant oomycete plant pathogens include:
Some slime molds in Phytomyxea cause important diseases, including club root in cabbage and its relatives and powdery scab in potatoes. These are caused by species of Plasmodiophora and Spongospora, respectively.
Most bacteria that are associated with plants are actually saprotrophic and do no harm to the plant itself. However, a small number, around 100 known species, are able to cause disease. Bacterial diseases are much more prevalent in subtropical and tropical regions of the world.