Vascular Streak Dieback of cacao in Southeast Asia and Melanesia: in planta detection of the pathogen and a new taxonomy.
Vascular Streak Dieback (VSD) disease of cacao (Theobroma cacao) in Southeast Asia and Melanesia is caused by a basidiomycete (Ceratobasidiales) fungus Oncobasidium theobromae (syn.=Thanatephorus theobromae). The most characteristic symptoms of the disease are green-spotted leaf chlorosis or, commonly since about 2004, necrotic blotches, followed by senescence of leaves beginning on the second or third flush behind the shoot apex, and blackening of infected xylem in the vascular traces at the leaf scars resulting from the abscission of infected leaves. Eventually the shoot apex is killed and infected branches die. In susceptible cacao the fungus may grow through the xylem down into the main stem and kill a mature cacao tree. Infections in the stem of young plants prior to the formation of the first 3-4 lateral branches usually kill the plant. Basidiospores released from corticioid basidiomata developed on leaf scars or along cracks in the main vein of infected leaves infect young leaves. The pathogen commonly infects cacao but there are rare reports from avocado. As both crops are introduced to the region, the pathogen is suspected to occur asymptomatically in native vegetation. The pathogen is readily isolated but cultures cannot be maintained. In this study, DNA was extracted from pure cultures of O. theobromae obtained from infected cacao plants sampled from Indonesia. The internal transcribed spacer region (ITS), consisting of ITS1, 5.8S ribosomal RNA and ITS2, and a portion of nuclear large subunit (LSU) were sequenced. Phylogenetic analysis of ITS sequences placed O. theobromae sister to Ceratobasidium anastomosis groups AG-A, AG-Bo, and AG-K with high posterior probability. Therefore the new combination Ceratobasidium theobromae is proposed. A PCR-based protocol was developed to detect and identify C. theobromae in plant tissue of cacao enabling early detection of the pathogen in plants. A second species of Ceratobasidium, Ceratobasidium ramicola, identified through ITS sequence analysis, was isolated from VSD-affected cacao plants in Java, and is widespread in diseased cacao collected from Indonesia.