When plant scientist Mohammad Babadoost took a job at the University of Illinois in 1999, he was asked to travel the short distance to the country’s richest pumpkin-growing farms. There was a problem. Pumpkins, the canning type used for pumpkin pies, were dying on the vine. Farmers needed help. When Professor Babadoost arrived and surveyed the damage, he joked that they really should have called the FBI because it looked like terrorists had wiped out the field. In the audio clip below, Professor Babadoost tells WGN’s Steve Alexander that he and his team worked day and night until they came up with the cause of the devastation: a pathogen called Phytophthora, which has a dark place in history. It’s the same pathogen that caused the potato famine in Ireland which starved a million people to death and caused millions more to leave the country. Not only did Babadoost’s diagnosis and treatment work, acreage and production more than doubled, and Illinois retained its spot as the number one pumpkin-producing state in the country.

The Business of Food with Steve Alexander

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