Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum L., is a fragrant herb belonging to the family Lamiaceae. Originated in India 5,000 years ago, sweet basil plays a significant role in diverse cuisines across the world, especially in Asian and Italian cooking. In October 2008, hundreds of plants showing symptoms of leaf spot with nearly 100% incidence were found in polyethylene tunnels at an organic farm in Icheon, Korea. Leaf spots were circular to subcircular, water-soaked, dark brown with grayish center, and reached 10 mm or more in diameter. Diseased leaves defoliated prematurely. The damage purportedly due to this disease has reappeared every year with confirmation of the causal agent made again in 2011. A cercosporoid fungus was consistently associated with disease symptoms. Stromata were brown, consisting of brown cells, and 10 to 40 μm in width. Conidiophores were fasciculate (n = 2 to 10), olivaceous brown, paler upwards, straight to mildly curved, not geniculate in shorter ones or one to two times geniculate in longer ones, 40 to 200 μm long, occasionally reaching up to 350 μm long, 3.5 to 6 μm wide, and two- to six-septate. Conidia were hyaline, acicular to cylindric, straight in shorter ones, flexuous to curved in longer ones, truncate to obconically truncate at the base, three- to 16-septate, and 50 to 300 × 3.5 to 4.5 μm. Morphological characteristics of the fungus were consistent with the previous reports of Cercospora guatemalensis A.S. Mull. & Chupp (1,3). Voucher specimens were housed at Korea University herbarium (KUS). An isolate from KUS-F23757 was deposited in the Korean Agricultural Culture Collection (Accession No. KACC43980). Fungal DNA was extracted with DNeasy Plant Mini DNA Extraction Kits (Qiagen Inc., Valencia, CA). The complete internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of rDNA was amplified with the primers ITS1/ITS4 and sequenced. The resulting sequence of 548 bp was deposited in GenBank (Accession No. JQ995781). This showed >99% similarity with sequences of many Cercospora species, indicating their close phylogenetic relationship. Isolate of KACC43980 was used in the pathogenicity tests. Hyphal suspensions were prepared by grinding 3-week-old colonies grown on PDA with distilled water using a mortar and pestle. Five plants were inoculated with hyphal suspensions and five plants were sprayed with sterile distilled water. The plants were covered with plastic bags to maintain a relative humidity of 100% for 24 h and then transferred to a 25 ± 2°C greenhouse with a 12-h photoperiod. Typical symptoms of necrotic spots appeared on the inoculated leaves 6 days after inoculation, and were identical to the ones observed in the field. C. guatemalensis was reisolated from symptomatic leaf tissues, confirming Koch's postulates. No symptoms were observed on control plants. Previously, the disease was reported in Malawi, India, China, and Japan (2,3), but not in Korea. To our knowledge, this is the first report of C. guatemalensis on sweet basil in Korea. Since farming of sweet basil has recently started on a commercial scale in Korea, the disease poses a serious threat to safe production of this herb, especially in organic farming.
References: (1) C. Chupp. A Monograph of the Fungus Genus Cercospora. Ithaca, NY, 1953. (2) D. F. Farr and A. Y. Rossman. Fungal Databases. Systematic Mycology & Microbiology Laboratory, ARS, USDA. Retrieved from http://nt.ars-grin.gov/fungaldatabases/, May 5, 2012. (3) J. Nishikawa et al. J. Gen. Plant Pathol. 68:46, 2002.
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