Oospores of Pustula helianthicola in sunflower seeds and their role in the epidemiology of white blister rust.IMA Fungus 2013; 4(2):251-8IF
White blister rust (WBR) of sunflower caused by Pustula helianthicola is an important and often underestimated disease in many countries of the world. The epidemiology of the pathogen is not yet fully understood; particularly the role of oospores in primary infection and long distance dispersal. We analysed WBR severity in sunflower under natural conditions and found disease incidence of 97-99 % in fields where infected sunflower had first been observed ca. 8 yr ago. Besides the typical blisters of mitotic sporangia on leaves, large amounts of oospores were observed on the involucral bracts. Inoculation of sunflower seedlings with oospores from these bracts resulted in disease incidence of ca. 30 %, thus confirming their infectivity without a period of dormancy. Bracts of infected flower heads from the field were checked for oospores using a binocular microscope and seeds were checked by light microscopy. Oospores were found in all of the bracts and in up to 28 % of the achenes. Light microscopy revealed that oospores developed in the thin-walled, crushed parenchymatic cells of the inner layer and in the parenchymatic rays of the fibrous layer of the pericarp. Dried seeds were grown in soil to assess the occurrence of seed borne infection. Within 3 wk, up to 58 % of seedlings showed typical WBR pustules on cotyledons. Asymptomatic infections were confirmed in phenotypically healthy plants by using a PCR-based diagnostic test for P. helianthicola. The results showed the importance of oospores of P. helianthicola as the primary inoculum for WBR development in sunflower, and pointed to the potential role of contaminated seeds in the long distance transmission of the pathogen.