“Being a medical doctor for people is easy,” said Phil Hamm, head of the plant pathology lab. “Their patients talk to them. Ours do not.” Instead of sick people stumbling into a clinic to tell their woes to a physician, sick plants arrive wrapped in brown paper for experts to diagnose their ills: potato late blight, zebra chip, silver scurf.
And these experts do house calls. About 15 years ago, the Columbia Basin faced an outbreak of common corn smut. OSU experts diagnosed it, prescribed strategies for combating the fungus, and helped growers switch to disease-resistant varieties of sweet corn.