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PLoS One. 2009;4(3):e4790. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004790. Epub 2009 Mar 10.

Bridging the gulf: Phytophthora and downy mildews are connected by rare grass parasites.

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Institute of Botany, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.


Downy mildews and root and foliar rots caused by Phytophthora are among the most destructive plant pathogens and therefore have attracted considerable attention during the past two decades. Although it has been realized that a close phylogenetic relationship exists, so far sharp distinction has been made between the obligate biotrophic downy mildews and the hemibiotrophic Phytophthora. In the study presented here, it is shown that a continuum of character states from hemibiotrophic Phytophthora species to obligate biotrophic downy mildews is present. Intermediate character states between downy mildews and Phytophthora species exist in several rare parasites of grasses, which are not embedded within the major clades of the downy mildews but are placed sister to these, with unresolved affinities to both these clades and to Phytophthora. They still have retained traits hitherto thought to be exclusive for Phytophthora. A careful review of previous research is presented and it is highlighted that uniquely for downy mildews, Poakatesthia may form an intracellular mycelium, growing through several host cells. In addition, scanning electron microscopy reveals that sporangiophore growth is not determinate in Viennotia and that outgrowth from sporangiophores is very similar to Phytophthora infestans. It is concluded that the sharp morphological distinction between downy mildews and Phytophthora species (that are often placed in separate families and even different orders), is rather artificial, since all features thought to be exclusive to Phytophthora or the downy mildews are united in the rare grass-parasitizing down mildew genera Viennotia and Poakatesthia and the enigmatic genus Sclerophthora. Therefore, several paradigms regarding the distinction between Phytophthora and the downy mildews need to be reconsidered.

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