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SUMMARY

The rapid global re-emergence of Fusarium head blight disease of wheat and barley in the last decade along with contamination of grains with mycotoxins attributable to the disease have spurred basic research on the fungal causal agent. As a result, Fusarium graminearum quickly has become one of the most intensively studied fungal plant pathogens. This review briefly summarizes current knowledge on the pathogenicity, population genetics, evolution and genomics of Fusarium graminearum.

Taxonomy:  Based on the sexual state Gibberella zeae (Schwein.) Petch: Superkingdom Eukaryota; Kingdom Fungi; Phylum Ascomycota; Subphylum Pezizomycotina; Class Sordariomycetidae; Subclass Hypocreomycetidae; Order Hypocreales; Family Nectriaceae; Genus Gibberella.

Host range:  The pathogen is capable of causing head blight or ‘scab’ on wheat (Triticum), barley (Hordeum), rice (Oryza), oats (Avena) and Gibberella stalk and ear rot disease on maize (Zea). The fungus also may infect other plant species without causing disease symptoms. Other host genera cited for Gibberella zeae or F. graminearum sensu lato (see below) are Agropyron, Agrostis, Bromus, Calamagrostis, Cenchrus, Cortaderia, Cucumis, Echinochloa, Glycine, Hierochloe, Lolium, Lycopersicon, Medicago, Phleum, Poa, Schizachyrium, Secale, Setaria, Sorghum, Spartina and Trifolium.

Disease symptoms and signs:  For wheat, brown, dark purple to black necrotic lesions form on the exterior surface of the florets and glume (Fig. 1). Although these lesion symptoms sometimes are referred to as scab, they are not formally related to the hyperplasia and hypertrophic epidermal growth associated with other scab diseases such as apple scab. Peduncles immediately below the inflorescence may become discoloured brown/purple. With time, tissue of the inflorescence often becomes blighted, appearing bleached and tan, while the grain within atrophies. Awns often become deformed, twisted and curved downward. In barley, infections are not always readily apparent in the field. Infected spikelets may show a browning or water-soaked appearance. Infected barley kernels show a tan to dark brown discolouration that can be similar to that caused by other kernel blighting organisms. During prolonged wet periods, pink to salmon-orange spore masses of the fungus are often seen on infected spikelets, glumes and kernels in both wheat and barley. For maize ear rot, infection occurs by way of colonizing silk and thus symptoms first appear at the ear apex. White mycelium, turning pink to red with time, colonizes kernels and may progress basipetally, covering the entire ear.

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Figure 1. Field-grown wheat inflorescence showing symptoms of Fusarium head blight. The third spikelet from the bottom shows a darkened necrotic lesion (‘scab’) whereas the second and fifth spikelets demonstrate tissue bleaching (‘blight’) symptoms. Photograph courtesy of Jacki Morrison, USDA ARS Cereal Disease Laboratory.

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