Muller, M.F., Barnes, I., Kunene, N.T., Crampton, B.G., Bluhm, B.H., Phillips, S., Olivier, N.A. and Berger, D.K. 2016. Cercospora zeina from maize in South Africa exhibits high genetic diversity and lack of regional population differentiation. Phytopathology 106 ; 1194-1205.
South Africa is one of the leading maize-producing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the 1980s, Cercospora zeina, a causal agent of gray leaf spot (GLS) of maize, has become endemic in South Africa, and is responsible for substantial yield reductions. To assess genetic diversity and population structure of C. zeina in South Africa, 369 isolates were collected from commercial maize farms in three provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and North West). These isolates were evaluated with fourteen microsatellite markers and species-specific mating type markers that were designed from draft genome sequences of C. zeina isolates from Africa (CMW 25467) and USA (USPA-4). Sixty alleles were identified across 14 loci, and gene diversity values within each province ranged from 0.18 to 0.35. High levels of gene flow were observed (Nm = 5.51), and in a few cases, identical multilocus haplotypes were found in different provinces. Overall, 242 unique multilocus haplotypes were identified with a low clonal fraction of 34%. No distinct population clusters were identified using STRUCTURE, Principle Co-ordinate analysis or Weir’s theta θ statistic. The lack of population differentiation was supported with AMOVA analyses which indicated that only 2% of the variation was attributed to variability between populations from each province. Mating-type ratios of MAT1-1 and MAT1-2 idiomorphs from 335 isolates were not significantly different from a 1:1 ratio in all provinces, which provided evidence for sexual reproduction. The draft genome of C. zeina CMW 25467 exhibited a complete genomic copy of the MAT1-1 idiomorph as well as exonic fragments of MAT genes from both idiomorphs. The high level of gene diversity, shared haplotypes at different geographical locations within South Africa, and presence of both MAT idiomorphs at all sites indicates widespread dispersal of C. zeina between maize fields in the country as well as evidence for sexual recombination. The outcomes of this genome-enabled study are important for disease management since the high diversity has implications for dispersal of fungicide resistance should it emerge and the need for diversified resistance breeding.