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Ontogenic Resistance and Plant Disease Management: A Case Study of Grape Powdery Mildew

June 2002 , Volume 92 , Number  6
Pages  671 - 675

Andrea Ficke , David M. Gadoury , and Robert C. Seem

Department of Plant Pathology, Cornell University, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva 14456

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Accepted for publication 12 February 2002.

A fundamental principle of integrated pest management is that actions taken to manage disease should be commensurate with the risk of infection and loss. One of the less-studied factors that determines this risk is ontogenic, or age-related resistance of the host. Ontogenic resistance may operate at the whole plant level or in specific organs or tissues. Until recently, grape berries were thought to remain susceptible to powdery mildew (Uncinula necator) until late in their development. However, the development of ontogenic resistance is actually quite rapid in berries, and fruit become nearly immune to infection within 4 weeks after fruit set. Our objective was to determine how and at what stage the pathogen was halted in the infection process on ontogenically resistant berries. Adhesion of conidia, germination, and appressorium formation were not impeded on older berries. However, once berries were approximately 3 weeks old and older, few germlings were able to form secondary hyphae. Ontogenically resistant berries responded rapidly to infection by synthesis of a germin-like protein that had been previously shown to play a role in host defense against barley powdery mildew. On susceptible berries, cell discoloration around penetration sites indicated the oxidation of phenolic compounds; a process that was followed by localized cell death. However, the pathogen was still able to infect such cells prior to their death, continue secondary growth, and thereby colonize young berries. Formation of papillae was not involved in the differential resistance mechanism of older berries. In susceptible berries, papillae formed frequently at infection sites but did not always contain the pathogen, whereas in resistant berries, the pathogen was always halted prior to the formation of papillae. The host defense, which conditions ontogenic resistance, operates in the earliest stages of the infection process, in the absence of gross anatomical barriers, prior to the formation of a functional haustorium and prior to the development of a conspicuous penetration pore. We also found that diffuse powdery mildew colonies that were not visible in the field predisposed berries to bunch rot by Botrytis cinerea, increased the levels of infestation by spoilage microorganisms, and substantially degraded wine quality. Our improved understanding of the nature, causes, and stability of ontogenic resistance in the grapevine/ powdery mildew system has supported substantial changes in how fungicides are used to control the disease. Present applications are more focused on the period of maximum fruit susceptibility instead of following a calendar-based schedule. This has improved control, reduced losses, and in many cases reduced the number of fungicide applications required to suppress the disease. Particularly where fungicides are deployed in a programmatic fashion and ontogenic resistance is dynamic, there may be equivalent improvements to be made in other hostpathogen systems through studies of how host susceptibility changes through time.

Additional keywords: adult plant resistance, Vitis.

© 2002 The American Phytopathological Society