Effector delivery and effector characterisation in Dothistroma needle blight of pines : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Sciences) in Genetics/Molecular Plant Pathology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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Massey University
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The filamentous fungus Dothistroma septosporum causes a serious foliar disease, Dothistroma needle blight (DNB), on Pinus radiata in New Zealand and on many pine species worldwide. Potentially correlated to changes in climate, this disease has been on the rise for 20 to 30 years, and current countermeasures often struggle to contain the damage it causes. A molecular approach to combat DNB could be promising. Effectors are small proteins secreted by pathogens to promote host colonisation, and have been a major focus of plant pathologists in recent years. However, effector biology in pathogens of gymnosperms has received little research attention. Here, candidate effectors (CEs) were selected using a series of computational prediction tools, as well as RNAseq data from a compatible D. septosporum-pine interaction. A shortlist of 55 highly in planta expressed CEs, predicted to be secreted to the apoplast, was characterised in silico. While almost half of them lacked a predicted function, none were exclusive to D. septosporum. Seventeen effector candidates of particular interest were taken forward for functional characterisation. Specifically, these proteins were screened for induction of plant defences in the form of cell death in the model plants Nicotiana benthamiana and N. tabacum using an Agrobacterium transient expression assay. Five CEs induced cell death in these plants, suggesting recognition by the plant defence machinery. Of those five, three are similar to previously described proteins. Effector screening methods are not available for pine, thus various approaches to achieve this were trialled. A high-throughput method to collect each protein in the apoplastic wash fluid of N. benthamiana was developed. This fluid was applied to P. radiata shoots raised from tissue culture to screen for a response, with promising results. Along with an array of D. septosporum CEs, these shoots may ultimately be used to screen for resistant pine genotypes. Selection of genotypes at this early stage could speed up DNB resistance screening for pine breeding and the protocol could be transferred to related pathosystems. This research also contributes to the molecular understanding of forest diseases and effectors that may be common among pathogens of distantly related hosts.
Dothistroma septosporum, Genetics, Red band needle blight, Genetic aspects, Plant-microbe relationships, Molecular aspects, Pinus radiata, Diseases and pests, New Zealand