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Friday, 31 January 2014 00:00

Study reveals new aspects of the reproductive strategy of the fungus causing Verticillium wilt of olive tree

Olive grove affected by Verticillium Olive grove affected by Verticillium

The Vertigen project concludes successfully with the participation of ceiA3 researchers in the University of Cordoba and two teams from the Universities of Cornell and Penn State in the US

Verticillium wilt is currently the most worrying disease among the oil sector in Spain and other countries by the Mediterranean Sea, causing crop losses and destruction in the olive groves. It is caused by the soil fungus Verticillium dahliae and it is the target of  investigations for decades due to the difficulty of its control. Indeed, the ineffectiveness of preventive or post-infection pesticide treatments of the plant has made the industry to turn its aim to preventive actions and to the use of varieties able to resist to the fungus. This approach has been supported by the scientific community.

One of the latest and most innovative lines of research is the focus of Vertigen project, led by ceiA3 researcher at the University of Cordoba Rafael M. Jiménez Díaz. This project has involved scientists from Cornell University (NY) and Pennsylvania, funded by the National Plan MINECO and cofinanced by FEDER funds from the EU. This project  has focused on the reproductive biology of the fungus, which has been understood for years as strictly asexual and, consequently, with high stability and low variability in their populations. However, a broad sampling at different geographical areas in the world has shown that there is much more genetic and pathogenic diversity than one would expect from the asexual reproduction of the fungus, including a highly virulent defoliant strain in olive and cotton. Specifically, at the Vertigen project thousands of polymorphisms in a single nucleotide were genotyped by sequencing and identified in more than 300 copies of the fungus obtained from cotton , olive trees and other crops affected in Spain , Greece , Israel, Italy, Turkey, and the United States . This observation has drawn new questions : what if the fungus would reproduce in a sexual way ? Can we expect a genetic evolution of fungus especially damaging even the most resistant to Verticillium varieties?

Vertigen results on the first hypotheses to answer these questions were presented yesterday in Cordoba to ceiA3 researchers from UCO and the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (IAS - CSIC), in a lecture by Professor Michael G. Milgroom and the Director of the Cordovan scientific team Prof. Rafael M. Jiménez Díaz. These hypotheses have been also shared with the research community in numerous scientific articles. Therefore, the cooperative research teams will keep addressing, in the forthcoming years, the practical utility underlying the progress achieved, says Professor Jiménez Díaz, already announcing the request for funding in new national and international calls.

- Jiménez-Gasco, M., Malcolm, G.M., Berbegal, M., Armengol, J., and Jiménez-Diaz, R.M. 2014. Complex molecular relationship between Vegetative Compatibility Groups in Verticillium dahliae: VCGs do not always align with clonal lineages. Phytopathology 104 (preprint).
- Jiménez–Díaz, R. M., Cirulli, M., Bubici, G., Jiménez-Gasco, M. M., Antoniou, P. P., and Tjamos, E. C. 2012. Verticillium wilt: A major threat to olive production. Current status and future prospects for its management. Plant Disease Feature Article 96: 304-329.
- Jiménez Díaz, R.M. 2013. Integrated management of Verticillium wilt in olives. Keynote 6. 11th International Verticillium Symposium, Koopman, B. and von Tiedeman, A. (Eds.). ISBN: 978-3-941261-12-9. DPG-Verlag. Braunschweig, Alemania.
-Milgroom, M. G., Jiménez-Gasco, M.M, Olivares-García, C., and Jiménez-Díaz, R.M. 2013. New insights on the phylogenetic relationships between strains of Verticillium dahliae. 11th International Verticillium Symposium, Koopman, B. and von Tiedeman, A. (Eds.). ISBN: 978-3-941261-12-9. DPG-Verlag. Braunschweig, Germany.
Jiménez-Díaz, R.M., Olivares-García, C., Landa, B.B., Jiménez-Gasco, M.M, and Navas-Cortés, J.A. 2011. Region-wide analysis of genetic diversity in Verticillium dahliae populations infecting olive in southern Spain and factors influencing the distribution and prevalence of vegetative compatibility groups and pathotypes. Phytopathology 101: 304-315.
-Collado-Romero, M., Mercado-Blanco, J., Olivares-García, C., and Jiménez-Díaz, R.M. 2008. Phylogenetic analysis of Verticillium dahliae vegetative compatibility groups. Phytopathology 98: 1019-1028.

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