DuPont Agricultural Biotechnology, Experimental Station, 200 Powder Mill Road, Wilmington, DE 19880-0353, U.S.A.
Fusarium kernel rot disease starburst symptomatology was characterized fully for the first time. Two maize lines were hand pollinated and inoculated, using a fluorescent protein-expressing transformant of the fungal pathogen Fusarium verticillioides, by introduction of a conidial suspension through the silk channel of intact ears. Microscopy was used to identify the infection court and document initial stages of kernel colonization and subsequent manifestation of macroscopic symptoms. The fungus entered kernels of susceptible line AD38 via an open stylar canal and spread extracellularly and over the kernel through the nucellus region, sporadically entering pericarp and filling the long thick-walled mesocarp cells. Hyphae spread within pericarp from cell to cell via pits, colonizing files of host cells by growing both up and down the kernel in a radial pattern that preceded macroscopic symptom development. The starburst symptom developed subsequently, and mirrored colonization exactly, when there was extensive dissolution of the thick walls of pericarp cells. Line HT1 exhibited a closed stylar canal phenotype and was not susceptible—except when the pericarp surface was breached mechanically. We hypothesize the passive movement of conidia along the surface of silks, perhaps via capillarity, as a possible mechanism for pathogen access to the infection court.