Molecular Plant Pathology – Pathogen Profiles

Molecular, ecological and evolutionary approaches to understanding Alternaria diseases of citrus

Kazuya Akimitsu1,, Tobin L. Peever2 and L. W. Timmer3

Laboratory of Plant Pathology, Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Kagawa University, Miki, Kagawa 761-0795, Japan
Department of Plant Pathology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6430, USA
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Citrus Research and Education Center, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Florida, Lake Alfred, FL 33850, USA

Summary:Alternaria fungi cause four different diseases of citrus: Alternaria brown spot of tangerines, Alternaria leaf spot of rough lemon, Alternaria black rot of several citrus fruits and Mancha foliar of Mexican lime. The first three diseases are caused by the small-spored species, Alternaria alternata and the causal agents can only be differentiated using pathogenicity tests, toxin assays or genetic markers. Mancha foliar is caused by the morphologically distinct, large-spored species A. limicola. Substantial progress has been made in understanding the biology, ecology, population biology, systematics, molecular biology and biochemistry of the interactions between these pathogens and citrus. Epidemiological studies have focused on brown spot of tangerines and their hybrids and have contributed to the development of a model of disease development which has improved control and reduced fungicide use. Studies of the population genetics, host specificity and ecology of A. alternata from different ecological niches on citrus have revealed host specific forms of the pathogen which cause disease on different citrus species, the existence of three phylogenetic lineages of the fungus which cause brown spot world-wide, and closely related non-pathogenic isolates which colonize healthy citrus tissue. The role of host-specific toxins in Alternaria diseases of citrus has been extensively studied for over 20 years, and these pathosystems have become model systems for host-pathogen interactions. Recent molecular research has started to unravel the genetic basis of toxin production and the host susceptibility to toxin, and the role of extracellular, degradative enzymes in disease.