Background: The fungus Cercospora beticola causes Cercospora Leaf Spot (CLS) of sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.). Despite the global importance of this disease, durable resistance to CLS has still not been obtained. Therefore, the development of tolerant hybrids is still a major goal for sugar beet breeding. Although recent studies have suggested that the leaf microbiome composition can offer useful predictors to assist plant breeders, this is an untapped resource in sugar beet breeding efforts.
Methods: Using Ion GeneStudio S5 technology to sequence amplicons from seven 16S rRNA hypervariable regions, the most recurring endophytes discriminating CLS-symptomatic and symptomless sea beets (Beta vulgaris L.ssp. maritima) were identified. This allowed the design of taxon-specific primer pairs to quantify the abundance of the most representative endophytic species in large naturally occurring populations of sea beet and subsequently in sugar beet breeding genotypes under either CLS symptomless or infection stages using qPCR.
Results: Among the screened bacterial genera, Methylobacterium and Mucilaginibacter were found to be significantly (p<0.05) more abundant in symptomatic sea beets with respect to symptomless. In cultivated sugar beet material under CLS infection, the comparison between resistant and susceptible genotypes confirmed that the susceptible genotypes hosted higher contents of the above-mentioned bacterial genera.
Conclusions: These results suggest that the abundance of these species can be correlated with increased sensitivity to CLS disease. This evidence can further prompt novel protocols to assist plant breeding of sugar beet in the pursuit of improved pathogen resistance.