Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Plant Pathology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa J. Vaillancourt


Gibberella zeae (anamorph Fusarium graminearum) is a homothallic ascomycete pathogen that is responsible for causing Fusarium head blight (FHB) of wheat and small grains. In addition to causing a reduction in yield, harvested grain is frequently contaminated with trichothecene mycotoxins that are harmful for human and animal health. Use of wheat varieties with resistance to FHB is an important strategy to lower its impact. In order to produce varieties with durable resistance, we must understand the origin and degree of genetic diversity present in the pathogen population. In my research, I focused my efforts on an investigation of the role of mating and sexual development in the generation of genotypic and phenotypic variability in G. zeae. The goal of one part of my work was to develop new genetic markers that can be used to monitor out-crossing and genetic diversity in the population. I also optimized gene deletion protocols for G. zeae so that I could produce mutant and control strains to address my research hypothesis that MAT genes play a direct role in pathogenicity. Application of novel repetitive RFLP probes to a group of G. zeae isolates originating from and near Kentucky revealed a surprisingly high degree of diversity in these local populations. Diversity between locations was greater than that within locations, suggesting the relative importance of local inoculum sources. The probes were also useful as genetic markers for segregation analysis. I crossed two genetically closely related, and commonly used, laboratory strains of G. zeae and found that this resulted in transgressive segregation for both aggressiveness and toxigenicity. I showed that the very high and very low levels of aggressiveness and toxigenicity in transgressive segregants are heritable. I also showed that selfing produced a higher degree of diversity in these traits among the progeny than was observed among conidial progeny. This suggests the presence of epigenetic factors that impact pathogenicity. Sexual behavior in G. zeae is under the control of MATing type genes. I deleted the complete MAT1 locus, and the MAT1-1-1, and MAT1-2-1 genes separately. Deletion of each of the targeted sequences produced the expected shifts in fertility phenotype. The mat1KO strains became asexual, while mat1-1-1KO and mat1-2-1KO strains shifted to obligate heterothallism. Deletion of the MAT1-1-1 and MAT1-2-1 genes had a negative effect on aggressiveness and mycotoxin production in planta, but deletion of the complete MAT1 locus had no effect. The set of mutant and ectopic control strains that I generated will be a useful asset that will be made available to the research community.