Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Plant Pathology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa J. Vaillancourt


Maize anthracnose, caused by the fungus Colletotrichum graminicola, is an economically important species contributing to major yield losses. C. graminicola is a hemibiotroph; initially it invades its host while it is alive, and then it switches to destructive necrotrophic growth and the host is killed. Establishment of compatible interactions by biotrophic pathogens is usually associated with suppression of host defenses and cell death, while necrotrophic pathogens typically secrete phytotoxic compounds and induce cell death. To understand the relationship of hemibiotrophy in C. graminicola to biotrophy and necrotrophy, I compared a compatible and an incompatible interaction, utilizing a non-pathogenic mutant strain that is very similar to the wild type in vitro. I developed an assay to visualize in detail living fungal and host cells during pathogenic and nonpathogenic interactions. My results provided evidence that C. graminicola produces diffusible substances during colonization that predispose nearby living host cells for fungal invasion. My observations further suggested that the mutant is nonpathogenic because it fails to produce these substances. To explore the possibility that the C. graminicola mutant is impaired in the production and/or secretion of one or more secondary metabolites (SM), I characterized the range of SM-associated genes in C. graminicola. C. graminicola has a large and diverse repetoire of these genes, indicating significant capacity for the production of SM. I then characterized the global expression of fungal genes during different developmental phases in both compatible and incompatible interactions. I found that SM-associated genes are expressed during early and late stages of maize infection. Secreted proteins and putative effectors were overrepresented among differentially regulated predicted gene products. There were relatively few differences in expression between the mutant and wild type, suggesting that differences between them may relate to post-transcriptional events. The transcriptional analysis indicated that the mutant was defective very early in biotrophy. This study indicates that biotrophy and necrotrophy coexist in this pathosystem in different cells, and that arrays of differentially regulated and locally expressed genes are involved in maintaining this balance. Understanding the nature of induced susceptibility may lead to new therapeutic targets for management of this damaging disease.