Fusarium wilt of chickpea caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. ciceris can be managed by risk assessment and use of resistant cultivars. A reliable method for the detection and quantification of F. oxysporum f. sp. ciceris in soil and chickpea tissues would contribute much to implementation of those disease management strategies. In this study, we developed a real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (q-PCR) protocol that allows quantifying F. oxysporum f. sp. ciceris DNA down to 1 pg in soil, as well as in the plant root and stem. Use of the q-PCR protocol allowed quantifying as low as 45 colony forming units of F. oxysporum f. sp. ciceris per gram of dry soil from a field plot infested with several races of the pathogen. Moreover, the q-PCR protocol clearly differentiated susceptible from resistant chickpea reactions to the pathogen at 15 days after sowing in artificially infested soil, as well as the degree of virulence between two F. oxysporum f. sp. ciceris races. Also, the protocol detected early asymptomatic root infections and distinguished significant differences in the level of resistance of 12 chickpea cultivars that grew in that same field plot infested with several races of the pathogen. Use of this protocol for fast, reliable, and cost-effective quantification of F. oxysporum f. sp. ciceris in asymptomatic chickpea tissues at early stages of the infection process can be of great value for chickpea breeders and for epidemiological studies in growth chambers, greenhouses and field-scale plots.
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