Momordica balsamina (balsam apple) and M. charantia L. (bitter melon/bitter gourd/balsam pear) commonly grow in the wild in Africa and Asia; bitter melon is also cultivated for food and medicinal purposes in Asia (1). In the United States, these cucurbits grow as weeds or ornamentals. Both species are found in southern states and bitter melon is also found in Pennsylvania and Connecticut (3). Cucurbit downy mildew (CDM), caused by the oomycete Pseudoperonospora cubensis, was observed on bitter melon and balsam apple between August and October of 2013 in six North Carolina sentinel plots belonging to the CDM ipmPIPE program (2). Plots were located at research stations in Johnston, Sampson, Lenoir, Henderson, Rowan, and Haywood counties, and contained six different commercial cucurbit species including cucumbers, melons, and squashes in addition to the Momordica spp. Leaves with symptoms typical of CDM were collected from the Momordica spp. and symptoms varied from irregular chlorotic lesions to circular lesions with chlorotic halos on the adaxial leaf surface. Sporulation on the abaxial side of the leaves was observed and a compound microscope revealed sporangiophores (180 to 200 μm height) bearing lemon-shaped, dark sporangia (20 to 35 × 10 to 20 μm diameter) with papilla on one end. Genomic DNA was extracted from lesions and regions of the NADH dehydrogynase subunit 1 (Nad1), NADH dehydrogynase subunit 5 (Nad5), and internal transcribed spacer (ITS) ribosomal RNA genes were amplified and sequenced (4). BLAST analysis revealed 100% identity to P. cubensis Nad1 (HQ636552.1, HQ636551.1), Nad5 (HQ636556.1), and ITS (HQ636491.1) sequences in GenBank. Sequences from a downy mildew isolate from each Momordica spp. were deposited in GenBank as accession nos. KJ496339 through 44. To further confirm host susceptibility, vein junctions on the abaxial leaf surface of five detached leaves of lab-grown balsam apple and bitter melon were either inoculated with a sporangia suspension (10 μl, 104 sporangia/ml) of a P. cubensis isolate from Cucumis sativus (‘Vlaspik' cucumber), or with water as a control. Inoculated leaves were placed in humidity chambers to promote infection and incubated using a 12-h light (21°C) and dark (18°C) cycle. Seven days post inoculation, CDM symptoms and sporulation were observed on inoculated balsam apple and bitter melon leaves. P. cubensis has been reported as a pathogen of both hosts in Iowa (5). To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. cubensis infecting these Momordica spp. in NC in the field. Identifying these Momordica spp. as hosts for P. cubensis is important since these cucurbits may serve as a source of CDM inoculum and potentially an overwintering mechanism for P. cubensis. Further research is needed to establish the role of non-commercial cucurbits in the yearly CDM epidemic, which will aid the efforts of the CDM ipmPIPE to predict disease outbreaks.
References: (1) L. K. Bharathi and K. J. John. Momordica Genus in Asia-An Overview. Springer, New Delhi, India, 2013. (2) P. S. Ojiambo et al. Plant Health Prog. doi:10.1094/PHP-2011-0411-01-RV, 2011. (3) PLANTS Database. Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA. Retrieved from http://plants.usda.gov/, 7 February 2014. (4) L. M. Quesada-Ocampo et al. Plant Dis. 96:1459, 2012. (5) USDA. Index of Plant Disease in the United States. Agricultural Handbook 165, 1960.
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