The stem nematode Ditylenchus dipsaci is of great economic importance worldwide as a parasite of agricultural crops and horticultural plants. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of rDNA from 23 populations of the D. dipsaci complex from various host plants were amplified and sequenced. Seven previously studied populations were also included in the study. The phylogenetic analysis of the full ITS and ITS2 sequence alignments using minimum evolution, maximum parsimony, and Bayesian inference under the complex model of DNA evolution revealed trees with two main clades: (i) D. dipsaci sensu stricto with diploid chromosome numbers and comprising most isolates from agricultural, ornamental, and several wild plants, and (ii) Ditylenchus spp. with polyploid chromosome numbers, reproductively isolated from diploid populations, and subdivided into six subclades (“giant race” from Vicia faba, Ditylenchus species parasitizing various Asteraceae, and a Ditylenchus sp. from Plantago maritima). Using the energy minimization approach and comparative sequence analysis, it has been found that the secondary structure of ditylenchid ITS2 is organized in three main domains. The importance of knowledge on the RNA structure for phylogenetic analysis is discussed. Conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and real-time PCR with SYBR green dye I with a species specific primer have been developed for detection and quantification of D. dipsaci sensu stricto Validation tests revealed a rather high correlation between real numbers of fourth-stage juveniles of the stem nematodes in a sample and expected numbers detected by real-time PCR. Problems of accuracy of quantification are discussed.
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