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Identification and validation of early genetic biomarkers for apple replant disease (2020.0)

Rohr A., Schimmel J., Liu B., Beerhues L., Guggenberger G., Winkelmann T.

PLOS ONE, 15 (9), e0238876



Apple replant disease (ARD) is a serious threat to producers of apple trees and fruits worldwide. The ARD etiology is not unraveled and managing options are either economically not applicable or environmentally harmful. Thus, interest is given in biomarkers that allow to indicate ARD situations at early time points in order to classify soils according to ARD severity but also to analyze the effectiveness to potential countermeasures. This study aimed at (i) identifying ARD biomarkers on the transcriptional level in root tissue by analyzing the expression of previously identified candidate genes in ARD soils of different origin and texture and (ii) testing the specificity of these marker genes to ARD. In vitro propagated M26 plantlets were submitted to a bio-test with three ARD soils, either untreated or disinfected by γ-irradiation. Expression of seven candidate genes identified in a previous transcriptomic study was investigated by RT-qPCR in a time course experiment. Already three days after planting, a prominent upregulation of the phytoalexin biosynthesis genes biphenyl synthase 3 (BIS3) and biphenyl 4-hydroxylase (B4Hb) was observed in the untreated ARD variants of all three soils. The phytoalexin composition in roots was comparable for all three soils and the total phytoalexin content correlated with the expression of BIS3 and B4Hb. The third promising candidate gene that was upregulated under ARD conditions was the ethylene-responsive transcription factor 1B-like (ERF1B). In a second experiment M26 plantlets were exposed to different abiotic stressors, namely heat, salt and nutrient starvation, and candidate gene expression was determined in the roots. The expression levels of BIS3 and B4Hb were highly and specifically upregulated in ARD soil, but not upon the abiotic stress conditions, whereas ERF1B also showed higher expression under heat stress. In conclusion, BIS3 and B4Hb are recommended as early ARD biomarkers due to their high expression levels and their high specificity.