Protist parasites of terrestrial plants include agents that destroy food crops. The oomycete Plasmopara viticola parasitizes grape plants, causing a disease called downy mildew (Figure 13.18a). Grape plants infected with P. viticola appear stunted and have discolored withered leaves. The spread of downy mildew caused the near collapse of the French wine industry in the nineteenth century.
Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete responsible for potato late blight, which causes potato stalks and stems to decay into black slime (Figure 13.18 b). Widespread potato blight caused by P. infestans precipitated the well-known Irish potato famine in the nineteenth century that claimed the lives of approximately 1 million people and led to the emigration from Ireland of at least 1 million more. Late blight continues to plague potato crops in certain parts of the United States and Russia, wiping out as much as 70 percent of crops when no pesticides are applied.