Sheath rot is an emerging rice disease that leads to considerable yield losses. The main causal agent is the fungus Sarocladium oryzae. This pathogen is known to produce the toxins cerulenin and helvolic acid, but their role in pathogenicity has not been clearly established. S. oryzea isolates from different rice-producing regions can be grouped into three phylogenetic lineages. When grown in vitro, isolates from these lineages differed in growth rate, colour and in the ability to form sectors. A diverse selection of isolates from Rwanda and Nigeria, representing these lineages, were used to further study their pathogenicity and toxin production. Liquid chromatography high-resolution mass spectrometry analysis was used to measure cerulenin and helvolic acid production in vitro and in planta. The three lineages clearly differed in pathogenicity on the japonica cultivar Kitaake. Isolates from the least pathogenic lineage produced the highest levels of cerulenin in vitro. Helvolic acid production was not correlated with the lineage. Sectorisation was observed in isolates from the two least pathogenic lineages and resulted in a loss of helvolic acid production. In planta, only the production of helvolic acid, but not of cerulenin, correlated strongly with disease severity. The most pathogenic isolates all belonged to one lineage. They were phenotypically stable, shown by the lack of sectorisation, and therefore maintained high helvolic acid production in planta.
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