Field-grown seedlings of ‘Alamo’ switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) from Vonore, TN exhibited light brown-to-dark brown leaf spots and general chlorosis in June 2009. Symptomatic leaf tissue was surface sterilized (95% ethanol for 1 min, 20% commercial bleach for 3 min, and 95% ethanol for 1 min), air dried on sterile filter paper, and plated on 2% water agar amended with 10 mg/liter rifampicin (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO) and 5 μl/liter miticide (2.4 EC Danitol, Valent Chemical, Walnut Creek, CA). Plates were incubated at 26°C for 4 days in darkness. An asexual, dematiaceous mitosporic fungus was isolated and transferred to potato dextrose agar. Cultures were transferred to Alternaria sporulation medium (3) to induce conidial production. Club-shaped conidia were produced in chains with branching of chains present. Conidia were 27 to 50 × 10 to 15 μm, with an average of 42.5 × 12.5 μm. Morphological features and growth on dichloran rose bengal yeast extract sucrose agar were consistent with characteristics described previously for Alternaria alternata (1). Pathogenicity studies were conducted with 5-week-old ‘Alamo’ switchgrass plants grown from surface-sterilized seed. Nine pots with approximately 20 plants each were prepared. Plants were wounded by trimming the tops. Eight replicate pots were sprayed with a conidial spore suspension of 5.0 × 106 spores/ml sterile water and subjected to high humidity by enclosure in a plastic bag for 7 days. One pot was sprayed with sterile water and subjected to the same conditions to serve as a control. Plants were maintained in a growth chamber at 25/20°C with a 12-h photoperiod. Foliar leaf spot symptoms appeared 5 to 10 days postinoculation for all replicate pots inoculated with A. alternata. Symptoms of A. alternata infection were not observed on the control. Lesions were excised, surface sterilized, plated on water agar, and identified in the same manner as previously described. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of ribosomal DNA and the mitochondrial small sub-unit region (SSU) from the original isolate and the reisolate recovered from the pathogenicity assay were amplified with PCR, with primer pairs ITS4 and ITS5 and NMS1 and NMS2, respectively. Resultant DNA fragments were sequenced and submitted to GenBank (Accession Nos. HQ130485.1 and HQ130486.1). A BLAST search (BLASTn, NCBI) was run against GenBank isolates. The ITS region sequences were 537 bp and matched 100% max identity with eight A. alternata isolates, including GenBank Accession No. AB470838. The SSU sequences were 551 bp and matched 100% max identity with seven A. alternata isolates, including GenBank Accession No. AF229648. A. alternata has been reported from switchgrass in Iowa and Oklahoma (2); however, this is the first report of A. alternata causing leaf spot on switchgrass in Tennessee. Switchgrass is being studied in several countries as a potentially important biofuel source, but understanding of the scope of its key diseases is limited.
References: (1) B. Andersen et al. Mycol. Res. 105:291, 2001. (2) D. F. Farr and A. Y. Rossman. Fungal Databases. Systematic Mycology and Microbiology Laboratory, ARS, USDA. Retrieved from http://nt.ars-grin.gov/fungaldatabases/, September 22, 2011. (3) E. A. Shahin and J. F. Shepard. Phytopathology 69:618, 1979.