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Scientists Discover New Species of Plant Fungi

By Ben Hardin
August 21, 2000

Researchers found 100 new species of the pathogenic plant fungus Fusarium when they recently compared DNA from more than 3,000 strains collected worldwide. The newly discovered species have left the scientists with questions. Could these fungi survive in fields of U.S. grain? Should plant breeding programs and quarantine programs take genetic information about these fungi into account?

Some Fusarium species cause stalk rot and ear rot in corn. In wheat and barley, they cause head blight or scab. Infected grain is unsuitable for food or livestock feed, if it contains certain levels of fungal toxins.

In greenhouse tests, eight of the new species, mostly of exotic origin, produced scab disease in wheat.

The Agricultural Research Service scientists who researched the Fusarium species at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., collaborated with colleagues from North Dakota State University in Fargo and the ARS Cereal Rust Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn. The species are part of an 80,000-strain collection of agriculturally and industrially important microorganisms maintained in the ARS Culture Collection in Peoria.

The scientists say three of the scab-causing fungi may be native to Africa, two to South and Central America, one to New Zealand and one to Asia. The eighth scab-causing fungi is widespread and may be native to North America.

An article about the research appears in the August issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief research agency.

Scientific contact: Kerry L. O’Donnell, ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., phone (309) 681-6383, fax (309) 681-6672,