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Keywords:

  • chestnut blight;
  • Cryphonectria parasitica;
  • fungus;
  • mixed mating;
  • self-fertilization;
  • self-incompatibility

Although the genetic components of mating systems in fungi are well understood as laboratory phenomena, surprisingly little is known about their function in nature or about their role in determining mating patterns and population genetic structure. Our study of the mating system of the haploid ascomycete fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, resulted in the following. (1) Laboratory crosses among 20 isolates, chosen randomly from North America and China, resolved into two incompatibility groups (occurring on both continents), confirming that C. parasitica has a diallelic, bipolar sexual self-incompatibility system, typical of other self-incompatible Ascomycetes, in which mating is only successful between isolates of opposite mating type. (2) PCR-based markers for mating-type alleles correlated perfectly with mating-type phenotypes of individual isolates. (3) Three genotypes, isolated from natural populations in Virginia and West Virginia, were inoculated onto chestnut trees in two sites in West Virginia and were confirmed to have self-fertilized and outcrossed in both sites. (4) Ten isolates, of a total of over 200 assayed, were confirmed to have self-fertilized in the laboratory, albeit at very low frequency. Five of these 10 isolates were ramets of a single genet, suggesting a genetic basis underlying the proclivity to self-fertilize in the laboratory. (5) Self-fertilization could not be induced in the laboratory with exudates (ostensibly containing pheromones) from isolates of opposite mating type. These results demonstrate that, a sexual self-incompatibility system notwithstanding, self-fertilization occurs under both laboratory and field conditions in C. parasitica. The disparity between observations of frequent selfing in nature and rare selfing in the laboratory suggests that the mating system is under ecological as well as genetic control.