Screening for exotic forest pathogens to increase survey capacity using metagenomics.
Anthropogenic activities have a major impact on the global environment. Canada's natural resources are threatened by the spread of fungal pathogens, which is facilitated by agricultural practices and international trade. Fungi are introduced to new environments and sometimes become established, in which case they can cause disease outbreaks resulting in extensive forest decline. Here, we describe how a nationwide sample collection strategy coupled to next-generation sequencing (NGS) (i.e., metagenomics) can achieve fast and comprehensive screening for exotic invasive species. This methodology can help provide guidance to phytopathology stakeholders such as regulatory agencies. Several regulated invasive species were monitored by processing field samples collected over 3 years (2013 to 2015) near high-risk areas across Canada. Fifteen sequencing runs were required on the Ion Torrent platform to process 398 samples that yielded 45 million reads. High-throughput screening of fungal and oomycete operational taxonomic units using customized fungi-specific ribosomal internal transcribed spacer 1 barcoded primers was performed. Likewise, Phytophthora-specific barcoded primers were used to amplify the adenosine triphosphate synthase subunit 9-nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide dehydrogenase subunit 9 spacer. Several Phytophthora spp. were detected by NGS and confirmed by species-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays. The target species Heterobasidion annosum sensu stricto could be detected only through metagenomics. We demonstrated that screening target species using a variety of sampling techniques and NGS - the results of which were validated by qPCR - has the potential to increase survey capacity and detection sensitivity, reduce hands-on time and costs, and assist regulatory agencies to identify ports of entry. Considering that early detection and prevention are the keys in mitigating invasive species damage, our method represents a substantial asset in plant pathology management.