The park Boscoincittà, Milan, North Italy (136 m a.s.l., 45°29′06″ N, 9°5′32″ E), has an area of 110 ha and includes tree stands, wood clearings, trails, and watercourses. Recently, common walnut (Jugland regia) trees in the park have begun to suffer from a progressive dieback that has caused roughly 90% mortality. Aerial symptoms were stunted growth, loss of vigor, crown thinning, and bark cankers with tarry exudates on the lower stem. The xylem tissue of trees showed large necrosis and flame-shaped discoloration below the bark. Since the dieback seemed caused by Phytophthora, samples were taken from three symptomatic trees and, by baiting, from the nearby soil and watercourses. Isolations from apple baits were carried out after a week. Isolations taken from tissue at the edge of active lesions of the trees were transferred on the selective medium V8A-PARPNH (1) and incubated at 24°C. Cottony colonies appeared after 3 days and single hyphal tip derivatives were transferred to V8A for a further 4 to 7 days. Fragments (1 cm2) of mycelium of the subcultured colonies were then placed in filtered (Ø 0.22 μm nitrocellulose filters, Millipore) pond water. Three isolates were retrieved within 24 h, two from tree tissue and one from water. These produced ovoid, non-papillate sporangia, of which 30 per isolate were measured. Sporangia averaged 52.5 ± 9.6 × 32.9 ± 4.7 μm (range 30.8 to 67 × 22.5 to 42.8) with a l:b ratio of 1.59 ± 0.19 (range 1.27 to 2.05), and exit pores of 11.1 ± 1.7 μm (range 7.31 to 14.21). External proliferation from previously emptied sporangia and hyphal swellings were observed on V8A. On V8A, colonies had optimal growth at 32°C (5.7 ± 0.8 mm d–1) with a maximum at 37°C. Colonies had a chrysanthemum-shaped, scanty fluffy aspect on PDA. Isolates were identified as Phytophthora taxon walnut on the basis of macro- and micro-morphology and sequence information from the ITS-rDNA region, that was amplified with primers ITS6 and ITS4 (3) after DNA extraction with a commercial kit (Sigma Aldrich). A region of the cox1 gene of isolate B164 was also amplified with primers OomCoxILevup and Fm85mod (4) and sequenced (GenBank Accession No. KC291584), but this was irrelevant for identification purposes because that gene region has not been sequenced for other isolates of this taxon. A BLAST search in GenBank and the Phytophthora database revealed a 99% identity of the ITS-rDNA from our isolate B164 (KC291550) with the P. taxon walnut isolate P532 (AF541910) (2). Inoculation trials were conducted on 10 detached leaves. A little lesion was produced with a sterile scalpel on the lower leaf surfaces and a 0.5 cm Ø agar plug was placed over the wounds. Necrotic lesions averaged 3.7 ± 1.6 × 2.0 ± 0.5 cm after 1 week of incubation at 20°C in the dark. Control leaves showed no symptoms. Re-isolations on V8-PARPNH agar confirmed Phytophthora taxon walnut as the causal agent. Members of the Phytophthora genus grouping with the Phytophthora taxon walnut in clade 6 are mainly reported as saprophytes or pathogens from riparian ecosystems and forests (2). To our knowledge, this is the first report of Phytophthora taxon walnut from Italy. Since the oomycete proved in our growth trial to be distinctly thermophilic, we hypothesize that its spread is being favored by the rising temperatures observed during the last decades in the area.
References: (1) Y. Balci et al. Plant Dis. 91:705, 2007. (2) C. M. Brasier et al. Mycol. Res. 107:277, 2003. (3) D. E. L. Cooke et al. Fungal Gen. Biol. 30:17, 2000. (4) G. P. Robideau et al. Bioinformatics 19:1572, 2011.
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