Stability and variability of virulence of Phytophthora infestans assessed in a ring test across European laboratories




Determining virulence towards race-specific resistance genes is a prerequisite to understanding the response of pathogen populations to resistant cultivars, and therefore to assess the durability of these resistance genes and the performance of resistance management strategies. In Phytophthora infestans, virulence testing began shortly after the introduction of R-genes from Solanum demissum into S. tuberosum cultivars. However, the characteristics of R-gene expression, the sensitivity of the phenotype to environmental and physiological parameters, and the diversity of experimental protocols make the comparison of data from different studies problematic. This prompted European teams working on P. infestans diversity to: (i) design a joint protocol, using detached leaflets from greenhouse-grown plants of a shared set of differential cultivars inoculated with standardized suspensions of inoculum, and (ii) assess the performance of this protocol in a blind ring test involving 12 laboratories and 10 European isolates of the pathogen. A high level of consensus in the determination of virulence/avirulence to R1, R3, R4, R7, R8, R10 and R11 was achieved among the collaborators, showing that the protocol could be robustly applied across a range of laboratories. However, virulence to R2, R5 or R9 was detected more frequently in some laboratories, essentially from northern Europe; these genes are known to be highly sensitive to host and environmental conditions. The consensus determination was often markedly different from the original virulence phenotype of the isolates, suggesting virulence instability in stored P. infestans isolates. This indicates that creating reliable core collections of pathogen isolates with known virulences could be difficult.