Monilinia fructicola, causal agent of brown rot, is one of the most important fungal pathogens of stone fruit. M. fructicola is a quarantined pathogen in Europe. During the summer of 2008 in 15 orchards located in Piedmont (northern Italy), 12,500 stone fruits (cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums) were stored in cold chambers at 4 and 6°C and monitored for 8 weeks for the presence of Monilinia spp. M. fructicola was detected on 0.5% of nectarines (cvs. Sweet Red and Orion) that originated from two orchards in Lagnasco. Symptoms appeared on the fruit during storage, starting 3 weeks after harvest. Fruit rot lesions were brown, sunken, and covered with grayish tufts. The majority of infected fruit became dry and mummified. Brown rot symptoms were similar to those caused by endemic M. fructigena and M. laxa. Symptoms began with a small, circular, brown spot, and the rot spread rapidly. At the same time, numerous, small, grayish stromata developed. Finally, the whole surface of the fruit was covered by conidial tufts. Tissues were excised from diseased stone fruits and cultured on potato dextrose agar (PDA) amended with 25 μg of streptomycin per liter. The isolates produced abundant mycelium on PDA at 20 ± 2°C. Colonies were initially gray, but after sporulation, they became hazel, showing concentric rings (sporulation is sparse in M. laxa or M. fructigena). Conidia were one-celled, ellipsoid, hyaline, 15.2 × 10.1 μm, and produced in branched monilioid chains (2). Preliminary morphological identification of fungi resembling M. fructicola was confirmed by PCR using genomic DNA extracted from the mycelia of pure cultures. The DNA was amplified with a common reverse primer and three species-specific forward primers (3) obtained from a sequence characterized amplified region and a product of 535 bp, diagnostic for the species M. fructicola, was obtained. BLAST analysis of the amplified sequence (GenBank Accession No. FI569728) showed 96% similarity to the sequence of a M. fructicola isolated from Canada (GenBank Accession No. AF506700), 15% similarity to M. laxa ATCC11790 (GenBank Accession No. AF506702), and 35% similarity to a M. fructigena sequence isolated in Italy (GenBank Accession No. AF506701). Moreover, two sequences obtained through the amplification of ribosomal region ITS1-5.8S-ITS2, showing 100% similarity to the same ribosomal sequence of M. fructicola, were deposited in GenBank (Accession Nos. FJ411109 and FJ411110). The pathogen was detected on some mummified fruit from the same orchards in November of 2008. Pathogenicity was tested by spraying 103 conidia/ml on 10 surface-sterilized artificially wounded nectarines per strain of M. fructicola. After 5 days of incubation at 20 ± 2°C, typical, brown, rot symptoms developed on inoculated fruit. M. fructicola was reisolated from the inoculated fruit on PDA. Symptoms did not appear on control fruit. To our knowledge, this is the first report of M. fructicola in Italy. Its occurrence in Europe has been reported sporadically in Austria and France, and in 2006, it was detected in Hungary and Switzerland on peaches and nectarines imported from Italy and Spain (1,4).
References: (1) E. Bosshard et al. Plant Dis. 90:1554, 2006. (2) R. J. W. Byrde and H. J. Willetts. The Brown Rot Fungi of Fruit: Their Biology and Control. Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1977. (3) M. J. Coté et al. Plant Dis. 88:1219, 2004. (4) M. Petròczy and L. Palkovics. Plant Dis. 90:375, 2006.