Although Ustilago hordei infects barley seedlings, symptoms of the disease covered smut are not visible until heading. Natural or artificial inoculation usually results in inconsistent infection, even in highly susceptible lines. Thus, breeding for resistance to covered smut is time consuming and difficult. The ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) regions of U. hordei were sequenced and a primer pair was developed for polymerase chain reaction (PCR). These primers amplified a 574-bp fragment from DNA of Ustilago spp., but did not amplify DNA from barley or other common barley pathogens. DNA extracted from as few as four U. hordei sporidia was detected by this method. U. hordei DNA was amplified from leaf tissue of inoculated susceptible and resistant plants at different stages of plant development in differential varieties. Growth of the fungus in different leaves of an individual plant was variable. Several highly resistant varieties were shown to contain U. hordei DNA in the first three to four leaves, but not in later leaves. Thus, although the fungus can infect many resistant plants, the plants remain symptomless. Detection of U. hordei prior to heading should assist efforts for breeding for resistance and provide clues concerning the mechanisms of resistance employed by different resistance genes.
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