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Identity and genetic diversity of the sorghum ergot pathogen in Australia

Birte Komolong, Sukumar Chakraborty, Malcolm Ryley and David Yates

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 53(6) 621 - 628
Published: 05 June 2002


Sorghum ergot was first discovered in Australia in 1996. It affects seed production and grain usage in stock feed due to concerns of animal toxicity. Three species of Claviceps are known to cause ergot of sorghum with different epidemiological, animal toxicity, and management implications. Claviceps africana was identified as the causal agent but morphological differences between isolates raised the possibility of more than one species being involved. The major aim of this study was to identify the Claviceps species causing sorghum ergot and to determine the genetic diversity among isolates of the ergot pathogen from Australia and overseas. Symptom development, sequencing of the ITS1 region, and radiolabelled DNA amplification fingerprints (RAF) were used to confirm that ergot of sorghum in Australia is caused by C. africana. The morphology of sphacelia, microconidia, macroconidia, and secondary conidia of all 36 Australian isolates studied matched the description for C. africana and the DNA sequence of the ITS1 region of 2 selected Australian isolates was identical to that of C. africana. Based on RAF analysis of 110 Australian and overseas isolates of Claviceps spp., C. africana isolates could be clearly distinguished (<40% similarity) from C. pusilla, C. sorghicola, C. sorghi, and a Claviceps sp. isolated from Panicum maximum. The C. africana isolates formed 2 distinct clusters. Cluster 1 contained 72 Australian isolates and all 21 overseas isolates of C. africana. The 13 isolates in Cluster 2 were all from Australia and more diverse than those in Cluster 1. The high level of genetic diversity of C. africana isolates in Australia is unexpected given that ergot has only been reported recently. The most likely source of this diversity points to introductions from countries such as India.

Keywords: Claviceps africana, ITS1, molecular markers, RAF.

© CSIRO 2002

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