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Secrets of the subterranean pathosystem of Armillaria




Armillaria root disease affects fruit and nut crops, timber trees and ornamentals in boreal, temperate and tropical regions of the world. The causal pathogens are members of the genus Armillaria (Basidiomycota, Physalacriaceae). This review summarizes the state of knowledge and highlights recent advances in Armillaria research.

Taxonomy:Armillaria includes more than 40 morphological species. However, the identification and delineation of species on the basis of morphological characters are problematic, resulting in many species being undetected. Implementation of the biological species' concept and DNA sequence comparisons in the contemporary taxonomy of Armillaria have led to the discovery of a number of new species that are not linked to described morphological species.

Host range:Armillaria exhibits a range of symbioses with both plants and fungi. As plant pathogens, Armillaria species have broad host ranges, infecting mostly woody species. Armillaria can also colonize orchids Galeola and Gastrodia but, in this case, the fungus is the host and the plant is the parasite. Similar to its contrasting relationships with plants, Armillaria acts as either host or parasite in its interactions with other fungi.

Disease control: Recent research on post-infection controls has revealed promising alternatives to the former pre-plant eradication attempts with soil fumigants, which are now being regulated more heavily or banned outright because of their negative effects on the environment. New study tools for genetic manipulation of the pathogen and characterization of the molecular basis of the host response will greatly advance the development of resistant rootstocks in a new stage of research. The depth of the research, regardless of whether traditional or genomic approaches are used, will depend on a clear understanding of where the different propagules of Armillaria attack a root system, which of the pathogen's diverse biolymer-degrading enzymes and secondary metabolites facilitate infection, and how the course of infection differs between resistant and susceptible hosts.