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Relationship Between Host Acidification and Virulence of Penicillium spp. on Apple and Citrus Fruit

January 2004 , Volume 94 , Number  1
Pages  44 - 51

Dov Prusky , James L. McEvoy , Robert Saftner , William S. Conway , and Richard Jones

First, second, third, and fourth authors: Produce Quality and Safety Laboratory; fifth author: Vegetable Laboratory, Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, MD 20705; and first author: Department of Postharvest Science of Fresh Produce, Institute for Technology and Storage of Agricultural Products, the Volcani Center, Agricultural Research Organization, Bet Dagan 50250, Israel

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Accepted for publication 7 July 2003.

Penicillium expansum, P. digitatum, and P. italicum acidify the ambient environments of apple and citrus fruit during decay development. They use two mechanisms for this: the production of organic acids, mainly citric and gluconic, and NH4+ utilization associated with H+ efflux. Exposure of P. expansum and P. digitatum hyphae to pH 5.0 increased their citric acid production, compared with the production of organic acids at acidic ambient pH. In decayed fruit, both pathogens produced significant amounts of citric and gluconic acids in the decayed tissue and reduced the host pH by 0.5 to 1.0 units. Ammonium depletion from the growth medium or from the fruit tissue was directly related to ambient pH reduction. Analysis of transcripts encoding the endopolygalacturonase gene, pepg1, from P. expansum accumulated under acidic culture conditions from pH 3.5 to 5.0, suggesting that the acidification process is a pathogenicity enhancing factor of Penicillium spp. This hypothesis was supported by the finding that cultivars with lower pH and citric acid treatments to reduce tissue pH increased P. expansum development, presumably by increasing local pH. However, organic acid treatment could not enhance decay development in naturally acidic apples. Conversely, local alkalinization with NaHCO3 reduced decay development. The present results further suggest that ambient pH is a regulatory cue for processes linked to pathogenicity of postharvest pathogens, and that specific genes are expressed as a result of the modified host pH created by the pathogens.

The American Phytopathological Society, 2004