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Studies on brown rust (Puccinia melanocephala) of sugarcane in South Africa.

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The first serious outbreak of brown rust of sugarcane caused by Puccinia melanocephala Syd. & P. Syd. was reported in India in 1907. It was first reported in South Africa (SA) in 1941 on the variety Co301 and is now present in almost all the sugarcane growing areas of the world. In SA, it is now described as an important disease of sugarcane, causing yield losses of up to 26% in susceptible varieties. Within the SA sugar industry, rust is controlled through the use of resistant varieties as it is the most economical method of control. However, most of the newer varieties that are being released have an intermediate resistance rating for rust. An integrated management approach for the control of rust is therefore being investigated. Aspects investigated in this study included environmental conditions required for development of the disease i.e. epidemiology, the use of silicon (Si) as a cultural control method against brown rust and identification of gene sequences expressed in response to brown rust infection. For the epidemiology study, inoculated plants were incubated in a dew chamber at different temperatures and leaf wetness periods. The choice of leaf wetness duration and temperature was based on urediniospore germination studies. The optimum temperature for urediniospore germination and disease development at > 98% relative humidity was found to be between 20 and 25°C with nine hours of leaf wetness. Silicon has been shown to reduce the incidence of diseases and pests in a number of crops. The ability of sugarcane to accumulate Si and the location of Si deposition was established using two uptake and deposition trials. Different concentrations of Si were applied to the plant and accumulation in the roots, stalks, old leaves and young leaves was determined using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry, with accumulation found to be roots > old leaves > stalks > young leaves. Silicon deposition in the leaves was determined using energy dispersive X-ray mapping on freeze dried specimens and significant differences were found between the upper epidermis, lower epidermis and mesophyll with the most Si being deposited in the lower epidermis. For disease severity, plants were naturally infected with rust and rated weekly. A significant decrease in disease severity and area under disease progress curve was noted when the Si concentration increased, indicating that Si has potential in reducing rust incidence. Currently, the most reliable and economical method of managing brown rust is with the use of resistant varieties. Identification of resistance within breeding lines is therefore important. For this part of the study, suppression subtractive hybridization was used as a tool to identify differentially expressed genes between a susceptible and resistant variety and a susceptible and intermediate variety, in response to brown rust infection. Two efficient subtracted cDNA libraries were generated and differentially expressed sequences were identified within each library. The results of this study show potential for the development of molecular markers which could be used for the early identification of brown rust resistance during the breeding process. This study forms a firm basis on which an integrated management strategy, for the management of brown rust in the SA sugar industry, could be designed. The cDNA sequences identified could be further investigated and used to develop molecular markers to select for rust resistant varieties, the epidemiology results together with further field data could be used to develop a disease prediction model and Si has potential in the field to reduce brown rust severity.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2009.


Sugarcane--Diseases and pests--South Africa., Sugarcane--Diseases and pests--Integrated control., Sugarcane--Diseases and pest resistance--Genetic aspects., Rust diseases--South Africa., Fungal diseases of plants--South Africa., Silicon in agriculture., Puccinia--South Africa., Theses--Plant pathology.