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Wild tomatoes resist devastating bacterial canker

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Many New York tomato growers are familiar with the scourge of bacterial canker – the wilted leaves and blistered fruit that can spoil an entire season’s planting. For those whose livelihoods depend on tomatoes, this pathogen – Clavibacter michiganensis – is economically devastating.

In a new paper, Cornell researchers showed that wild tomato varieties are less affected by bacterial canker than traditionally cultivated varieties. The paper, “Characterizing Colonization Patterns of Clavibacter michiganensis During Infection of Tolerant Wild Solanum Species,” published online in the journal Phytopathology.

Co-authors were Christine Smart, professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; F. Christopher Peritore-Galve, a doctoral student in the Smart Lab; and Christine Miller, a 2018 Smart Lab undergraduate summer intern from North Carolina State University.

“Bacterial canker is pretty bad in New York,” Peritore-Galve said, “but it’s distributed worldwide, everywhere tomatoes are grown.”

The pathogen causes wounding and is spread by wind-blown rain; if one tomato gets infected, it can spread from plant to plant.

“Bacterial canker certainly can cause the complete loss of a field of tomatoes, and we see outbreaks of the disease every year,” Smart said. “Growers use disease management strategies, including spraying plants with copper-based products; however, once there is an outbreak it’s difficult to control bacterial canker.”

To combat diseases, plant pathologists and breeders often look for varieties that are resistant, but among tomatoes traditionally grown for market, there are none with genetic resistance to bacterial canker. So Peritore-Galve, Miller and Smart went back to the beginning.

Tomatoes are native to the Andes Mountains region of South America, where wild species have been free to evolve for thousands of years. Recently, plant breeders have identified wild tomatoes that seem to be less susceptible to bacterial canker and are resistant to other pathogens.

The team wanted to understand how bacteria spread and colonize in wild tomatoes versus cultivated ones. They zeroed in on the plants’ vascular systems – specifically their xylem vessels.

Like individual veins in a human, xylem vessels transport water and nutrients from soil throughout the plant. The team found that in cultivated species, bacterial canker spreads everywhere, while in wild species the bacteria remain confined to certain xylem vessels without moving much into surrounding tissues.

“The wild tomatoes, for some reason, impede the ability of the bacteria to move up and down through the plants, which reduces symptoms – in this case, leaf wilt,” Peritore-Galve said.

This is the first study ever confirming that wild tomatoes are susceptible to bacterial canker, though the infection is less severe than in cultivated varieties. But while a severe infection causes fewer symptoms in the wild plant, it can still cause lesions on the fruit.

Even so, a tomato variety with resistance to the bacteria could still be very helpful for tomato growers, said Chuck Bornt, vegetable specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture program. Bornt works extensively with New York tomato growers.

“Many times, it’s not the fruit symptoms that cause the issue,” Bornt said, “it’s the wilting of the plants or the plugging of the xylem cells that cause the plant to lose foliage, which then exposes the fruit to sun scald and other issues. … Infected fruit are also an issue, but in my opinion it’s these other issues that have more impact.”

Read the paper: Phytopathology

Article source: Cornell University

Author: Krisy Gashler

Image credit: Allison Usavage/Cornell University

tomatoes

A symbiotic boost for greenhouse tomato plants

By | Agriculture, News, Plant Science | No Comments

The colonization of tomato plants with a beneficial desert root fungus protects against effects of salt stress.

Use of saline water to irrigate crops would bolster food security for many arid countries; however, this has not been possible due to the detrimental effects of salt on plants. Now, researchers at KAUST, along with scientists in Egypt, have shown that saline irrigation of tomato is possible with the help of a beneficial desert root fungus. This represents a new key technology for countries lacking water resources. 

“Salt in irrigation water is one of the most significant abiotic stresses in arid and semiarid farming,” says former KAUST postdoc Mohamed Abdelaziz, who worked on the project team alongside Heribert Hirt. “Improving plant salt tolerance and increasing the yield and quality of crops is vital, but we must achieve this in a sustainable, inexpensive way.”

The root fungus Piriformospora indica forms beneficial symbiotic relationships with many plant species, and previous research indicates it boosts plant growth under salt stress conditions in barley and rice. While initial studies suggest the fungus can improve growth in tomato plants under long-term saline irrigation, the mechanisms behind the process are unclear. Also, little is known about the fungal-plant interaction throughout the entire growing season.  

“Plant salt tolerance is a complex trait influenced by many factors,” says Abdelaziz. “The salt-tolerance mechanism depends on the correct activation of salt tolerance genes, stresses on cell membranes and the buildup of toxic sodium ions. We monitored growth performance over four months in tomato plants colonized with P. indica and in an untreated control group, both grown commercial style in greenhouses. We examined genetic and enzymatic responses to salt stress in both groups.” 

The main threat to plants under salt stress is the buildup of sodium ions, which affects plant metabolism, and leaf and fruit growth. For example, excessive sodium in shoots and roots disrupts levels of potassium, which is vital for multiple growth processes from germination to enzyme activation. 

The team showed that colonization by P. indica increased the expression of a gene in leaves called LeNHX1, one of a family of genes responsible for removing sodium from cells. Furthermore, potassium levels in leaves, shoots and roots of the P. indica group were higher than in controls. P. indica also increased levels of antioxidant enzyme activity, offering further protection. 

“Colonization with P. indica boosted tomato fruit yield by 22 percent under normal conditions and 65 percent under saline conditions,” says Abdelaziz. “Colonizing vegetables provides a simple, low-cost method suitable for all producers, from smallholders to large-scale farming.”

Read the paper: Scientia Horticulturae

Article source: KAUST

Image credit: Capri23auto / Pixabay