Genetic Analyses of the Laurel Wilt Pathogen, Raffaelea lauricola, in Asia Provide Clues on the Source of the Clone that is Responsible for the Current USA Epidemic
Laurel wilt is caused by the fungus Raffaelea lauricola T.C. Harr., Fraedrich and Aghayeva, a nutritional symbiont of its vector the redbay ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus Eichhoff. Both are native to Asia but appeared in Georgia in the early 2000s. Laurel wilt has since spread to much of the southeastern United States killing >300 million host trees in the Lauraceae plant family. The aims of this research were to elucidate the genetic structure of populations of R. lauricola, to examine its reproductive strategy, and determine how often the pathogen had been introduced to the USA. A panel of 12 simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers identified 15 multilocus genotypes (MLGs) in a collection of 59 isolates from the USA (34 isolates), Myanmar (18), Taiwan (6) and Japan (1). Limited diversity in the USA isolates and the presence of one MAT idiotype (mating type locus) indicated that R. lauricola was probably introduced into the country a single time. MLG diversity was far greater in Asia than the USA. Only three closely related MLGs were detected in the USA, the most prevalent of which (30 of 34 isolates) was also found in Taiwan. Although more work is needed, the present results suggest that a Taiwanese origin is possible for the population of R. lauricola in the USA. Isolates of R. lauricola from Myanmar were distinct from those from Japan, Taiwan and the USA. Although both MAT idiotypes were present in Myanmar and Taiwan, only the population from Taiwan had the genetic structure of a sexually reproducing population.