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Dothistroma (red-band) needle blight of pines and the dothistromin toxin: a review

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Dothistroma (red-band) needle blight has been a problem in plantations of exotic pines in the southern hemisphere for many decades. The prevalence of this disease is currently increasing in the northern hemisphere and is now affecting trees in their native ranges. The fungal pathogen Mycosphaerella pini with its anamorph Dothistroma pini, which is responsible for the disease, produces a toxin, dothistromin, that is closely related to the potent carcinogen, aflatoxin. Understandably this has provoked concern about possible effects on the health of forestry workers. This review gives a broad coverage of literature on both disease and toxin. The fungus has a complicated taxonomy with many synonyms and in most countries only the anamorph is found. It is a necrotrophic pathogen that kills needle tissue and completes its life cycle in the lesion thus formed. Dispersal of the disease is normally by rain splash of conidiospores but there is evidence that long range dispersal has occurred by transport of contaminated plant tissue and by wind/cloud dispersal of spores in air currents. The severity of disease is affected by humidity, temperature and light. There is variation in susceptibility of different Pinus species and some achieve increased resistance with age. The current method of control in southern hemisphere plantation forests is through spraying with copper fungicides and, with P. radiata, increased disease resistance has been achieved through a breeding programme. The dothistromin toxin is a difuroanthraquinone and is similar in structure to the aflatoxin precursor versicolorin B. Part of a gene cluster encoding dothistromin biosynthetic genes has been cloned and this has confirmed parallels between the dothistromin and aflatoxin biosynthetic pathways. Dothistromin produces damaging oxygen radicals by reductive oxygen activation rather than by photosensitization, but is also thought to exert its toxic effects on specific cellular targets. Studies have shown that dothistromin is a weak mutagen and clastogen and is therefore a potential carcinogen. Although the risks to forest workers are considered very low it is prudent to avoid unnecessary exposure during periods when dothistromin levels are likely to be at their peak.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-06-01

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