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SUMMARY

Fusarium graminearum is the main causative agent of Fusarium head blight on small grain cereals and of ear rot on maize. The disease leads to dramatic yield losses and to an accumulation of mycotoxins. The most dominant F. graminearum mycotoxins are the trichothecenes, with deoxynivalenol and nivalenol being the most prevalent derivatives. To investigate the involvement of trichothecenes in the virulence of the pathogen, the gene coding for the initial enzyme of the trichothecene pathway was disrupted in three field isolates, differing in chemotype and in virulence. From each isolate three individual disruption mutants were tested for their virulence on wheat, barley and maize. Despite the different initial virulence of the three wild-type progenitor strains on wheat, all disruption mutants caused disease symptoms on the inoculated spikelet, but the symptoms did not spread into other spikelets. On barley, the trichothecene deficient mutants showed no significant difference compared to the wild-type strains: all were equally aggressive. On maize, mutants derived from the NIV-producing strain caused less disease than their wild-type progenitor strain, while mutants derived from DON-producing strains caused the same level of disease as their progenitor strains. These data demonstrate that trichothecenes influence the virulence of F. graminearum in a highly complex manner, which is strongly host as well as moderately chemotype specific.