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Keywords:

  • basidiomycetes;
  • biological control;
  • cocoa;
  • endophytes;
  • rDNA phylogeny;
  • Theobroma cacao

Endophytic fungi were isolated from healthy stems and pods of cacao (Theobroma cacao) trees in natural forest ecosystems and agroecosystems in Latin America and West Africa. These fungi were collected for screening as a potential source of biocontrol agents for the basidiomycetous pathogens of cacao in South and Central America, Moniliophthora roreri (frosty pod rot) and Moniliophthora perniciosa (witches’ broom). Many of these isolates were morphologically unidentifiable as they failed to form fruiting structures in culture, or only produced arthrosporic stages. Affinities with basidiomycetes were suspected for many of these based on colony morphology. Fifty-nine of these morphologically unidentifiable isolates were selected for molecular identification by DNA extraction and sequence analysis of nuclear ribosomal DNA (rDNA). The large subunit (LSU) was chosen for initial sequencing because this region has been used most often for molecular systematics of basidiomycete fungi, and comprehensive LSU datasets were already available for sequence analyses. Results confirmed that the majority of the isolates tested belonged to the Basidiomycota, particularly to corticoid and polyporoid taxa. With LSU data alone, identification of the isolates was resolved at varying taxonomic levels (all to order, most to family, and many to genus). Some of the isolates came from rarely isolated genera, such as Byssomerulius, whilst the most commonly isolated basidiomycetous endophyte was a member of the cosmopolitan genus Coprinellus (Agaricales). The role of these fungi within the host and their potential as biological control agents are discussed.