Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis, c/o U.S. Agricultural Research Station, 1636 E. Alisal St., Salinas 93905.
Interactions between lettuce and a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing, race 1 isolate of Verticillium dahliae, were studied to determine infection and colonization of lettuce cultivars resistant and susceptible to Verticillium wilt. The roots of lettuce seedlings were inoculated with a conidial suspension of the GFP-expressing isolate. Colonization was studied with the aid of laser scanning confocal and epi-fluorescence microscopes. Few differences in the initial infection and colonization of lateral roots were observed between resistant and susceptible cultivars. Hyphal colonies formed on root tips and within the root elongation zones by 5 days, leading to the colonization of cortical tissues and penetration of vascular elements regardless of the lettuce cultivar by 2 weeks. By 8 to 10 weeks after inoculation, vascular discoloration developed within the taproot and crown regions of susceptible cultivars well in advance of V. dahliae colonization. Actual foliar wilt coincided with the colonization of the taproot and crown areas and the eruption of mycelia into surrounding cortical tissues. Advance colonization of stems, pedicels, and inflorescence, including developing capitula and mature achenes was observed. Seedborne infection was limited to the maternal tissues of the achene, including the pappus, pericarp, integument, and endosperm; but the embryo was never compromised. Resistant lettuce cultivars remained free of disease symptoms. Furthermore, V. dahliae colonization never progressed beyond infected lateral roots of resistant cultivars. Results indicated that resistance in lettuce may lie with the plant's ability to shed infected lateral roots or to inhibit the systemic progress of the fungus through vascular tissues into the taproot.