First and second authors: Department of Plant Pathology, ARO, The Volcani Center, P.O. Box 6, Bet Dagan 50250; and third author: Department of Plant Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
Colletotrichum acutatum, which causes anthracnose disease on strawberry, can also persist on several other plant species without causing disease symptoms. The genetic and molecular bases that determine pathogenic and nonpathogenic lifestyles in C. acutatum are unclear. We developed a transformation system for C. acutatum by electroporation of germinating conidia, and transgenic isolates that express the green fluorescent protein (GFP) were produced. Details of the pathogenic and nonpathogenic lifestyles of C. acutatum were determined by using GFP-transgenic isolates. Major differences between colonization-mediating processes of strawberry and of other plants were observed. On the main host, strawberry, the germinating conidia formed branched, thick hyphae, and large numbers of appressoria were produced that were essential for plant penetration. In strawberry, the fungus developed rapidly, filling the mesophyll with dense mycelium that invaded the cells and caused necrosis of the tissue. In nonpathogenic interactions on pepper, eggplant, and tomato, the conidia germinated, producing thin, straight germ tubes. Appressoria were produced but failed to germinate and penetrate leaf tissue, resulting in epiphytic growth without invasion of the plant. Penetration of the plant occurred only several days after inoculation and was restricted to the intercellular spaces of the first cell layers of infected tissue without causing any visible damage. Much of the new fungal biomass continued to develop on the surface of inoculated organs in the nonpathogenic interaction. The differences in fungal development on strawberry compared with the other plant species suggest that signal molecules, which may be present only in strawberry, trigger appressorial germination and penetration of the primary host.