First, third, and fourth authors: Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Ecosystem Science Division, University of California, Berkeley 94720; and second author: Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis 95616
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Accepted for publication 12 May 2004.
The timely and accurate detection of pathogens is a critical aid in the study of the epidemiology and biology of plant diseases. In the case of regulated organisms, the availability of a sensitive and reliable assay is essential when trying to achieve early detection of the pathogen. We developed and tested a real-time, nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for the detection of Phytophthora ramorum, causal agent of sudden oak death. This technique then was implemented as part of a widespread environmental screen throughout California. The method here described is sensitive, detecting less than 12 fg of pathogen DNA, and is specific for P. ramorum when tested across 21 Phytophthora spp. Hundreds of symptomatic samples from 33 sites in 14 California counties were assayed, resulting in the discovery of 10 new host species and 23 infested areas, including 4 new counties. With the exception of a single host, PCR-based discovery of new hosts and infested areas always was confirmed by traditional pathogen isolations and inoculation studies. Nonetheless, molecular diagnostics were key in early pathogen detection, and steered the direction of further research on this newly discovered and generalist Phytophthora species.
© 2004 The American Phytopathological Society