, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 249-262
Date: 23 Oct 2012

In vitro generation of somaclonal variant plants of sugarcane for tolerance to Fusarium sacchari

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Key message

A combination of in vitro culture and mutagenesis using ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) followed by culture filtrate-mediated selection produced variant sugarcane plants tolerant and resistant to Fusarium sacchari.


Eldana saccharina is a destructive pest of the sugarcane crop in South Africa. Fusarium sacchari PNG40 (a fungal strain harmful to E. saccharina) has the potential to be an endophytic biological control agent of the stalk borer. However, the fungus causes Fusarium stalk rot in sugarcane. In the current study, sugarcane plants tolerant and resistant to F. sacchari PNG40 were produced by exposing embryogenic calli to the chemical mutagen ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS), followed by in vitro selection during somatic embryogenesis and plantlet regeneration on media containing F. sacchari culture filtrates (CF). The incorporation of 100 ppm CF in the culture media at the embryo maturation stage, at germination, or at both, resulted in callus necrosis and consequent reduced plantlet yield. Subsequent trimming of the roots of regenerated plants and their exposure to 1,500 ppm CF served as a further selection treatment. Plants produced from EMS-treated calli displayed improved root re-growth in the presence of CF pressure compared with those from non-treated calli. The tolerance of CF-selected plants was confirmed in greenhouse tests by inoculation with F. sacchari PNG40, re-isolation of Fusarium spp. from undamaged tissue of asymptomatic plants and establishment of the identity of fungal isolates as PNG40 using molecular analysis. The restriction of PNG40 presence to the inoculation lesion in some plants suggested their resistance to the fungus. Genotypes exhibiting symptomless endophytic colonization by PNG40 were identified and will be utilised for testing biological control strategies against E. saccharina.