The Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7UH, U.K.
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Accepted 10 August 2000.
Many plants produce constitutive antifungal molecules belonging to the saponin family of secondary metabolites, which have been implicated in plant defense. Successful pathogens of these plants must presumably have some means of combating the chemical defenses of their hosts. In the oat root pathogen Gaeumannomyces graminis, the saponin-detoxifying enzyme avenacinase has been shown to be essential for pathogenicity. A number of other phytopathogenic fungi also produce saponin-degrading enzymes, although the significance of these for saponin resistance and pathogenicity has not yet been established. The tomato leaf spot pathogen Septoria lycopersici secretes the enzyme tomatinase, which degrades the tomato steroidal glycoalkaloid α-tomatine. Here we report the isolation and characterization of tomatinase-deficient mutants of S. lycopersici following targeted gene disruption. Tomatinase-minus mutants were more sensitive to α-tomatine than the wild-type strain. They could, however, still grow in the presence of 1 mM α-tomatine, suggesting that nondegra-dative mechanisms of tolerance are also important. There were no obvious effects of loss of tomatinase on macroscopic lesion formation on tomato leaves, but trypan blue staining of infected tissue during the early stages of infection revealed more dying mesophyll cells in leaves that had been inoculated with tomatinase-minus mutants. Expression of a defense-related basic β-1,3 glucanase gene was also enhanced in these leaves. These differences in plant response may be associated with subtle differences in the growth of the wild-type and mutant strains during infection. Alternatively, tomatinase may be involved in suppression of plant defense mechanisms.
© 2000 The American Phytopathological Society