Background: Effective disease management depends on timely and accurate diagnosis to guide control measures. The capacity to distinguish between individuals in a pathogen population with specific properties such as fungicide resistance, toxin production and virulence profiles is often essential to inform disease management approaches. The genomics revolution has led to technologies that can rapidly produce high-resolution genotypic information to define individual variants of a pathogen species. However, their application to complex fungal pathogens has remained limited due to the frequent inability to culture these pathogens in the absence of their host and their large genome sizes.
Results: Here, we describe the development of Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase (MARPLE) diagnostics, a portable, genomics-based, point-of-care approach specifically tailored to identify individual strains of complex fungal plant pathogens. We used targeted sequencing to overcome limitations associated with the size of fungal genomes and their often obligately biotrophic nature. Focusing on the wheat yellow rust pathogen, Puccinia striiformis f.sp. tritici (Pst), we demonstrate that our approach can be used to rapidly define individual strains, assign strains to distinct genetic lineages that have been shown to correlate tightly with their virulence profiles and monitor genes of importance.
Conclusions: MARPLE diagnostics enables rapid identification of individual pathogen strains and has the potential to monitor those with specific properties such as fungicide resistance directly from field-collected infected plant tissue in situ. Generating results within 48 h of field sampling, this new strategy has far-reaching implications for tracking plant health threats.
Keywords: Disease diagnostics; Genomics; Nanopore sequencing; Pathogen surveillance; Point of care; Wheat rust.