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Plants are exposed to various pathogens in their environment and have developed immune systems with multiple layers of defence to fight-back. However, often pathogens overcome the resistance barriers, infect the plants to cause the disease. Pathogens that cause diseases on economically important crop plants like strawberry incur huge losses to the agriculture industry. For example, The 2016 outbreak of strawberry grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) in Norway caused up to 95% crop losses. Outbreaks like this underline the importance of developing novel and sustainable tools to combat plant diseases, for example by increasing the plants’ natural disease resistance. Priming plant defences using chemical elicitors may be effective in providing the enhanced resistance against multiple pathogens. We have used β-aminobutyric acid (BABA) as a chemical priming agent to induce resistance in Fragaria vesca against Botrytis cinerea. Effects of BABA on disease progression and defence responses of Fragaria are being characterized using molecular tools like RNAseq, RT-PCR and ChIP. As priming chemicals may induce an epigenetic memory in treated plants, we also plan to study the histone methylation patterns in primed plants and the genes that are regulated. Our long-term aim is to understand the duration of the epigenetic memory and its cross-generational transmission to the progeny in Fragaria. Our results will help guide various crop protection strategies in addition to providing new insights to develop novel tools for plant disease management.


Bark beetles and their symbiotic bluestain fungi kill more trees than all other natural factors and cause great economic losses in Norway spruce and other conifers. The tree's natural defenses are the most important factor maintaining bark beetle-fungus complexes at low, endemic levels. Spraying Norway spruce trees with the plant hormone methyl jasmonate (MeJA) primes tree defenses without eliciting notable induced defenses, but enables the trees to respond much more quickly and strongly when challenged by bark beetles or fungi several weeks after treatment. This phenomenon, known as defense priming, is a form of acquired resistance that enables cost-effective and vigorous defense responses. In field experiments with 50-year-old clonal spruce trees terpene concentrations in the bark increased 60-fold within 24 h after mechanical wounding of MeJA primed trees, compared with a 13-fold increase in unprimed control trees. We also observed altered transcriptional patterns in primed trees using Illumina deep transcriptome sequencing. When wounded, primed trees launched vigorous induced defenses with significant differential regulation of gene transcripts, such as those involved in phenylpropanoid synthesis leading to lignification. Resistance-like genes, such as the NB-LRR coding genes, are also more rapidly induced in primed than in unprimed trees. Transcriptome results from primed but unwounded trees indicate an alteration in the state of the chromatin, resembling changes associated with the activity of the epigenetic machinery creating long-lasting epigenetic marks. We do not know yet how long the primed state is activated in Norway spruce, but our data so far indicate that it may last for at least 3 years.


Pathogenic soft rot Enterobacteriaceae (SRE) belonging to the genera Pectobacterium and Dickeya cause diseases in potato and numerous other crops. Seed potatoes are the most important source of infection, but how pathogen-free tubers initially become infected remains an enigma. Since the 1920s, insects have been hypothesized to contribute to SRE transmission. To validate this hypothesis and to map the insect species potentially involved in SRE dispersal, we have analyzed the occurrence of SRE in insects recovered from potato fields over a period of 2 years. Twenty-eight yellow sticky traps were set up in 10 potato fields throughout Norway to attract and trap insects. Total DNA recovered from over 2,000 randomly chosen trapped insects was tested for SRE, using a specific quantitative PCR (qPCR) TaqMan assay, and insects that tested positive were identified by DNA barcoding. Although the occurrence of SRE-carrying insects varied, they were found in all the tested fields. While Delia species were dominant among the insects that carried the largest amount of SRE, more than 80 other SRE-carrying insect species were identified, and they had different levels of abundance. Additionally, the occurrence of SRE in three laboratory-reared insect species was analyzed, and this suggested that SRE are natural members of some insect microbiomes, with herbivorous Delia floralis carrying more SRE than the cabbage moth (Plutella xylostella) and carnivorous green lacewing larvae (Chrysoperla carnea). In summary, the high proportion, variety, and ubiquity of insects that carried SRE show the need to address this source of the pathogens to reduce the initial infection of seed material.