Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense Schlecht (Foc), causal agent of Fusarium wilt of banana (Panama disease), is considered to be one of the most serious threats to banana production in the world. There is no effective control measure for Fusarium wilt, except for the replacement of susceptible with resistant banana varieties. However, resistant varieties are not always acceptable to producers and local consumer markets. A greater awareness of the detrimental effect of chemicals on the environment has stimulated research on biological control of plant pathogens. The use of indigenous microorganims, such as non-pathogenic F. oxysporum and the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens, therefore, offers not only an environmentally safe but also an economical approach to combat Fusarium wilt of banana as part of an integrated disease management strategy. Non-pathogenic F. oxysporum and P. fluorescens isolates have previously been isolated from the root rhizosphere in disease suppressive soils. These isolates have the ability to reduce the incidence of Fusarium wilt in greenhouse pathogenicity trials. In this study we had hoped to expand on existing knowledge on the biological control of Fusarium wilt of banana with non-pathogenic endophytic F. oxysporum and P. fluorescens. Isolates that significantly suppress disease development in greenhouse trials were tested under field conditions. Physiological and histological studies were also performed to understand the modes of action of putative biological control agents. For the histological investigations, non-pathogenic F. oxysporum isolates were modified with green and red fluorescent proteins. Chapter 1 depicts a general overview of the biological control of Fusarium wilt diseases of agricultural crops. This chapter addresses the biology and pathogenesis of F. oxysporum, before strategies to control Fusarium wilt are discussed. The application of biological control organisms was analysed in terms of potentially useful organisms, where they can be isolated, and their possible modes of action. Finally, factors that influence biological control of Fusarium wilt diseases are discussed. A good source of prospective biocontrol agents is suppressive soils. In Chapter 2, non-pathogenic F. oxysporum isolates were collected from healthy banana roots in disease suppressive soil. Random Fragment Length Polymorphisms of the intergenic spacer region were then applied to group the non-pathogenic F. oxysporum isolates into genotypes, from which candidates were selected for biological control studies. The selected endophytes were then inoculated onto banana roots to determine their ability to act as biocontrol agents against Foc. The isolates that protected banana best against Fusarium wilt in the greenhouse, together with P. fluorescens WCS 417, were tested in the field to determine whether these isolates could effectively reduce disease incidence in an uncontrolled environment. The ability of non-pathogenic F. oxysporum and P. fluorescens WCS 417 to induce systemic resistance in Cavendish banana plants against Foc was investigated in Chapter 3 with the use of a split-root technique. The putative biocontrol agents were inoculated, separately and in combination, on one half of the roots in a split-root experiment, while the other half was challenged by a pathogenic isolate of Foc. Five different phenolic acids were assayed which included total soluble phenolic acids, non-conjugated (free acids) phenolic acids, ester-bound phenolic acids, glycosidebound phenolic acids and cell wall-bound phenolic acids. The knowledge gained will contribute to the understanding of how the biocontrol agents may induce defense responses in banana roots against Foc. Non-pathogenic isolates of F. oxysporum were transformed with the green fluorescent protein (GFP) and DsRed-Express genes in Chapter 4. These isolates were used to visualise their interactions with a GFP-transformed Foc isolate on the banana root in a non-destructive manner by means of confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) in Chapter 5. The ability of non-pathogenic F. oxysporum and P. fluorescens WCS 417 to induce structural changes was also investigated with a split-root system using the CLSM. Antibioses as a mode of action of the two potential biocontrol agents was tested in vitro. Understanding the modes of action of non-pathogenic F. oxysporum and P. fluorescens WCS 417 are important when considering strategies for the implementation of these isolates in an integrated disease management strategy against Fusarium wilt of banana.
Dissertation (MSc (Plant Pathology))--University of Pretoria, 2011.