PPATH 502: Plant Disease Diagnosis (Fall 2017)

Field and laboratory techniques used in diagnosing plant diseases caused by various types of pathogens with emphasis on fungi.


  • Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology


PPATH 502 Plant Disease Diagnosis is designed for students interested in developing an understanding of how to recognize that a plant is in poor health, determine the probable cause of the disease using field and laboratory methods, use the available literature to fully understand the disease, and then write a recommendation for managing the disease in a form that is readily understandable by the general public (non-scientists). This course is offered for two weeks (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each week day) before the beginning of the fall semester. Students enroll in the course as if it were being taken during the fall semester. The course grade is recorded at the end of the fall semester.

Field and laboratory techniques used in diagnosing plant diseases caused by various types of pathogens will be emphasized. Basic principles of disease diagnosis that can be applied to any crop will be covered. The philosophy of the course is to come to an understanding of the complete etiology of plant disease. That is, the interactions among the pathogen(s), environment, and host plant over a period of time that result in poor plant health are to be examined and evaluated. Based on that understanding, a determination should be made as to whether a specific disease should or should not be managed and if managed, what steps should be followed.

Course Logistics

Instructor: Dr. Gary W. Moorman, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology
Course Credits: 3
Text: None
Prerequisites: None. It is assumed that the student will have taken a general biology course in secondary school or in college.

Course Objectives

Students will:

  1. increase their knowledge of the causes of plant diseases;
  2. increase their understanding of how plants, the environment, and biotic and abiotic agents interact over time during disease development;
  3. learn to diagnose diseases;
  4. learn to formulate a diagnosis report and disease management recommendation readily understood by the general public.


Ten 100-point disease diagnoses and recommendations (1000 total points). Each assignment has two parts:

  1. Complete etiology of a disease, including the identity of the host plant, description of the symptoms of the disease, and the signs of the pathogen(s), identity of the pathogen(s), and information on the environmental factors that tend to favor disease development.
  2. A diagnostic report written for a non-scientist (farmer, homeowner, arborist, greenhouse operator, etc.) that explains the key points of the disease needed by the client in order to understand the problem and recommendations for managing the disease. The management recommendations include the steps, materials, and timing that should be followed in order to manage the disease. In the recommendation, options should be given (cultural, chemical, non-chemical, and biological management) for the client to choose from. If information or diagnostic procedures beyond the scope of a plant disease diagnostic lab are required, the report should explain what further work is needed and note where such work can be done. The first two assignments submitted will be critiqued, given provisional grades, and returned to the student. Those will be the grades for the reports unless the student decides to amend or rewrite the reports. The revisions will receive a final grade. All subsequent reports will receive a final grade and be returned to the student.

Each report is to be submitted as one document (WORD or similar software). It is highly encouraged that reports be submitted as they are completed during the course and not compiled to be submitted at the end of the course. Ten diagnoses and recommendations are to have been completed and submitted no later than 5 p.m., August 4, 2017. Reports submitted after that time will not be graded unless previous arrangements were made with the instructor.

Students are encouraged to interact with the instructor, with one another, with other university faculty and staff, and with authorities outside Penn State, and to consult the scientific literature in gathering information pertaining to disease diagnoses and recommendations. All final reports are to be in the words of the individual student. See the Academic Integrity statement below.

GradeTotal Points
A 930-1000
A- 900-929
B+ 870-899
B 830-869
B- 800-829
C+ 770-799
C 700-769
D 600-699
F <599

If for reasons beyond your control you are prevented from completing the course within the prescribed time, contact the instructor. At the discretion of the instructor, it may be possible to complete the course during the fall semester. If you don’t complete the course within the agreed-upon deferral period, a grade of “F” will be assigned to your academic record.


Students are expected to attend class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each week day, July 24-August 4, 2017. However, the instructor recognizes that there may be times when it is necessary for the student to be absent. It is the student's responsibility to contact the instructor to make the instructor aware of an expected absence or explain an unexpected absence. Please see Class Attendance for a more complete policy on attendance.

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