Tree Genetics & Genomes

, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp 1261–1279

The interaction of Theobroma cacao and Moniliophthora perniciosa, the causal agent of witches’ broom disease, during parthenocarpy


    • USDA-ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab
  • Jean-Philippe Marelli
    • Mars Center for Cocoa Science
  • Richard C. Sicher
    • USDA-ARS Crop Systems & Global Change Lab
  • Mary D. Strem
    • USDA-ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab
  • Bryan A. Bailey
    • USDA-ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11295-012-0513-8

Cite this article as:
Melnick, R.L., Marelli, J., Sicher, R.C. et al. Tree Genetics & Genomes (2012) 8: 1261. doi:10.1007/s11295-012-0513-8


Witches’ broom disease of Theobroma cacao L. is caused by the hemibiotrophic basidiomycete Moniliophthora perniciosa. Infection of flower cushions by M. perniciosa results in parthenocarpy. Healthy and parthenocarpic immature cacao pods were obtained from seven cacao clones. Microscopic observations of parthenocarpic pods from two clones confirmed that fruits lack viable seed. Septate mycelia colonized parthenocarpic pods, but were absent from healthy pods. Parthenocarpic pods had increased concentrations of leucine, methionine, serine, phenylalanine, and valine. Major transport metabolites sucrose and asparagine were decreased by 63 and 40 %, respectively, during parthenocarpy. M. perniciosa expressed sequence tags (ESTs) related to detoxification (MpSOD2 and MpCTA1) and nutrient acquisition (MpAS, MpAK, MpATG8, MpPLY, and MpPME) were induced in parthenocarpic pods. Most M. perniciosa ESTs related to plant hormone biosynthesis were repressed (MpGAox, MpCPS, MpDES, MpGGPPS, and MpCAO) in parthenocarpic pods. RT-qPCR analysis was conducted for 54 defense-related cacao ESTs and 93 hormone-related cacao ESTs. Specific cacao ESTs related to plant defense were induced (TcPR5, TcChi4, TcThau-ICS) while others were repressed (TcPR1, TcPR6, TcP12, and TcChiB). Cacao ESTs related to GA biosynthesis (TcGA20OX1B) were repressed in parthenocarpic pods. Cacao ESTs putatively related to maintaining cytokinin (TcCKX3 and TcCKX5) and IAA (TcGH3.17a, TcGH3.1, TcARF18) homeostasis were induced in parthenocarpic pods, suggesting an attempt to regulate cytokinin and auxin concentrations. In conclusion, M. perniciosa expresses specific sets of transcripts targeting nutrient acquisition and survival while altering the host physiology without causing significant necrosis resulting in parthenocarpy. Only a general host defense response is elicited.


ParthenocarpyCacaoMoniliophthora perniciosaWitches’ broomPlant–microbe interaction

Supplementary material

11295_2012_513_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (165 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 164 kb)
11295_2012_513_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (179 kb)
ESM 2(PDF 178 kb)
11295_2012_513_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (99 kb)
ESM 3(PDF 98 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag (outside the USA) 2012