Department of Biological Sciences, 3927 Wood Hall, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo 49008-3899
Alternaria solani is the causal agent of early blight disease in tomato and is responsible for significant economic losses sustained by tomato producers each year. Because salicylic acid (SA) is an important signal molecule that plays a critical role in plant defense against pathogen invasion, we investigated if the exogenous application of SA would activate systemic acquired resistance (SAR) against A. solani in tomato leaves. The addition of 200 μM SA to the root system significantly increased the endogenous SA content of leaves. Free SA levels increased 65-fold over basal levels to 5.85 μg g-1 fresh weight (FW) after 48 h. This level of SA had no visible phytotoxic effects. Total SA content (free SA + SA-glucose conjugate) increased to 108 μg g-1 FW after 48 h. Concomitant with elevated SA levels, expression of the tomato pathogenesis-related (PR)-1B gene was strongly induced within 24 h of the addition of 200 μM SA. PR-1B expression was still evident after 48 h; however, PR-1B induction was not observed in plants not receiving SA treatment. Challenge inoculation of SA-treated tomato plants using conidia of A. solani resulted in 83% fewer lesions per leaf and a 77% reduction in blighted leaf area as compared with control plants not receiving SA. Our data indicate that root feeding 200 μM SA to tomato plants can (i) significantly elevate foliar SA levels, (ii) induce PR-1B gene expression, and (iii) activate SAR that is effective against A. solani.