Assessment of the loose smut fungi (Ustilago nuda and U. tritici) in tissues of barley and wheat by fluorescence microscopy and real-time PCR
Loose smut fungi of barley and wheat (Ustilago nuda and U. tritici, respectively) colonize the plant without causing obvious disease symptoms before heading. The availability of diagnostic methods to detect and follow the growth of these pathogens in the plant would therefore be highly advantageous for both resistance breeding and the development of effective seed treatments. Using seed lots of barley and wheat highly infected with loose smut, we studied the early establishment of the loose smut pathogens in the plant by fluorescence microscopy. In hand-cut sections stained with the fluorochrome Blankophor®, fungal hyphae were observed to invade the shoot apical meristem and leaf primordia during the first days after the onset of germination. At the first node stage the ear and leaf primordia were generally extensively colonized. Hyphae of U. nuda were also regularly observed in high density in the nodes. A protocol was developed for the specific amplification of U. nuda and U. tritici DNA extracted from infected plant tissue. PCR screening of U nuda in seedlings from infected and healthy seed lots was compared to ELISA, microscopy and ultimately head infection of mature plants derived from tillers of the tested seedlings. The results indicated that a prediction of loose smut infection by real-time PCR is possible at the second leaf stage, and that the assay is equally suited for use with spring and winter varieties of barley and wheat.
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