Speck rot caused by Phacidiopycnis washingtonensis and Sphaeropsis rot caused by Sphaeropsis pyriputrescens are two recently reported postharvest diseases of apple. Infection by these two pathogens occurs in the orchard but remains latent before harvest. Symptoms develop after harvest and are similar to those of gray mold caused by Botrytis cinerea. Accurate diagnosis of these diseases is important during the fruit inspection process, particularly in the instance of fruit destined for export. Early near-harvest detection of latent infections in apple fruit is an important step to implement relevant pre- and postharvest measures for disease control. The aim of this study was to develop polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays for diagnosis and early detection of latent infections of apple fruit by P. washingtonensis and S. pyriputrescens. Species-specific primers based on the ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer region were designed for use in PCR assays. Conventional and real-time PCR assays were developed and validated using fruit inoculated with P. washingtonensis, S. pyriputrescens, or B. cinerea and compared with identifications using traditional isolation-based assays. For wound-inoculated fruit, the PCR assays consistently provided the correct identification of the pathogen used as the inoculant in 6 h of processing time, compared with 5 to 6 days using culture-based methods. Real-time PCR assays effectively detected latent infections in symptomless stem and calyx tissues of fruit that were inoculated with the pathogens in the orchard during the growing season. The PCR assays provide a rapid, accurate method for diagnosis and early detection of these diseases.
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