In July 2011, a survey was conducted to evaluate the phytosanitary status of apricot trees (Prunus armeniaca L.) in an orchard in Binissalem (Mallorca Island, Spain). Fungal isolation was performed on a 40-year-old apricot trees (cv. Galta Vermella, double-grafted onto bitter almond and Japanese plum) showing a collapse of branches, chlorosis of leaves, and shoot dieback. These symptoms appeared in approximately 10% of the trees. Black spots and dark streaking of the xylem vessels were observed in cross- or longitudinal sections of the branches. Symptomatic branches were collected and wood sections (10 cm long) were cut, washed under running tap water, surface-disinfested for 1 min in a 1.5% sodium hypochlorite solution, and washed twice with sterile distilled water. The sections were split longitudinally, and small pieces of discolored tissues were plated onto malt extract agar (MEA) supplemented with 0.5 g liter−1 of streptomycin sulfate. Dishes were incubated at 25°C in the dark for 14 to 21 days, and all colonies were transferred to potato dextrose agar (PDA). A Phaeoacremonium sp. was consistently isolated from necrotic tissues (more than 50% of the isolations). Single conidial isolates were obtained and grown on PDA and MEA in the dark at 25°C for 2 to 3 weeks until colonies produced spores (3). Colonies were brownish orange on PDA and MEA. Conidiophores were short and occasionally branched, and 26 to 35 (avg. 29) μm long. Phialides were terminal or lateral, mostly monophialidic. Conidia were hyaline, oblong-ellipsoidal or fusiform-ellipsoidal, 3 to 4 (avg. 3.9) μm long, and 1 to 1.5 (avg. 1.2) μm wide. Based on these characters, the isolates were identified as Phaeoacremonium venezuelense L. Mostert, Summerb. & Crous (2,3). DNA sequencing of a fragment of the beta-tubulin gene of the isolate 9.3 using primers T1 and Bt2b (GenBank Accession No. KF765487) matched P. venezuelense GenBank accession HQ605026. Pathogenicity tests were conducted using isolate 9.3. Ten 2-year-old apricot trees of cv. Galta Rotja grown in pots were wounded in two branches with a 8-mm cork borer. A 5-mm mycelium PDA plug from a 2-week-old culture was placed in the wound before being wrapped with Parafilm. Ten control plants were inoculated with 5-mm non-colonized PDA plugs. Plants were maintained in a greenhouse at 25 to 30°C. Within 5 months, shoots on all Phaeoacremonium-inoculated branches had weak growth with chlorosis of leaves and there were black streaks in the xylem vessels. The vascular necroses that developed on the inoculated plants were 5.5 ± 0.6 cm long, significantly greater than those on the control plants (P < 0.01). Control plants did not show any symptoms. The fungus was re-isolated from discolored tissue of all inoculated cuttings, completing Koch's postulates. P. venezuelense was reported as a pathogen of grapevines in Algeria (1) and South Africa (2) and, to our knowledge, this is the first report of P. venezuelense associated with wood decay of apricot trees in Spain or any country in the world.
References: (1) A. Berraf-Tebbal et al. Phytopathol. Mediterr. 50:S86, 2011. (2) L. Mostert et al. J. Clin. Microbiol. 43:1752, 2005. (3) L. Mostert et al. Stud. Mycol. 54:1, 2006.