Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Science
USDA-ARS and Professor, Department of Plant Pathology
Professor, Department of Poultry Science
Professor, Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, 27695-7616
Fusarium head blight (FHB) can reduce yield of wheat and decrease the value of harvested grain by accumulation of detrimental toxins. Understanding the variability of the fungal population associated with infection could improve disease control strategies. Sixty-six isolates of Fusarium graminearum associated with FHB were collected in North Carolina and tested for in vitro growth rate, in vitro production of deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone, and pathogenicity on three cultivars of soft red winter wheat. Significant differences among isolates were found for all three traits. Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analysis revealed high levels of genotypic diversity among isolates. Isolates of F. graminearum, F. culmorum, and F. avenaceum acquired from the Pennsylvania State University Fusarium Center were included for comparison in all tests. In vivo levels of DON were measured for the five isolates associated with the highest levels of disease and the five isolates associated with the lowest levels of disease, and no significant differences were found. However, all ten isolates produced detectable levels of DON in vivo. Mean disease ratings ranged from 3.4 to 96.4%, in vitro (DON) levels ranged from 0 to 7176.2 ppm, and zearalenone ranged from 0 to 354.7 ppm, among isolates. A multiple regression model using in vitro growth, in vitro DON, and zearalenone production, collection location, wheat cultivar of isolate origin, plot, tillage conditions, and previous crop as independent variables and percent blighted tissue as the dependent variable was developed. The cumulative R2 value for the model equaled 0.27 with in vitro rate of growth making the largest contribution. Analysis of phenotype and genotype among isolates demonstrated diversity in a single plot, in a single location, and in North Carolina. Genotypic and phenotypic diversity were significant under both conventional and reduced tillage conditions, and diversity was high regardless of whether the previous crop had been a host or non-host for F. graminearum. These data indicate a variable pathogen population of F. graminearum exists in North Carolina, and members of this population can be both highly pathogenic on wheat and produce high levels of detrimental toxins, indicating a potential threat for problems with FHB within the state.