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Kathryn Homa, William P. Barney, Daniel L. Ward, Christian A. Wyenandt and James E. Simon

Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most economically important culinary herb in the United States. In 2007, a new disease, basil downy mildew (BDM), caused by the oomycete pathogen Peronospora belbahrii, was introduced into the United States and has since caused significant losses in commercial basil production. Although no commercial sweet basils available are resistant to P. belbahrii, other species of Ocimum have exhibited potential tolerance, resistance, or both. The objectives of this work were to determine if leaf morphological characteristics including stomata density and leaf curvature correlated with infection of plants by P. belbahrii, and thus could be used as selected characters in plant breeding. In 2011, 20 Ocimum cultivars including sweet (O. basilicum), cinnamon (O. basilicum), clove (O. basilicum), citrus (Ocimum ×africanum syn. Ocimum citriodorum), spice (Ocimum americanum syn. Ocimum canum), and holy basils (Ocimum tenuiflorum syn. Ocimum sanctum) were evaluated for susceptibility to downy mildew. Sweet basils were determined to be the most susceptible; cinnamon, clove, and Thai types were moderately susceptible; and citrus, spice, and holy types were least susceptible to downy mildew. Using those same 20 Ocimum species and cultivars, stomata length and density and leaf curvature were measured and correlated with downy mildew incidence and severity. In general, basil species with higher stomatal densities had higher downy mildew incidence and severity. High stomatal densities were mainly found in the sweet, cinnamon, and clove basils. Citrus and spice species with longer stomatal lengths generally exhibited lower downy mildew incidence. Holy basil, the least susceptible of all Ocimum sp. to P. belbahrii evaluated in this study, had the greatest stomatal density and shortest stomatal length. Some sweet basil cultivars with the highest downy mildew incidence also had the greatest downward leaf curvature, whereas other sweet basil cultivars with moderate downy mildew incidence had leaves that were nearly flat or curved upward. Holy, citrus, and spice basils with low downy mildew incidence had leaves that were nearly flat or curved upward. This study suggests that leaf curvature and stomatal density and length affect downy mildew development and sporulation. Considerations of these leaf morphological characteristics may be useful phenotypic traits in breeding for downy mildew resistance in Ocimum.

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Christian A. Wyenandt, Lisa R. Maimone, Kathryn Homa, Angela M. Madeiras, Robert L. Wick and James E. Simon

Different basils (Ocimum sp.) and cultivars (28 in 2009 and 32 in 2010) were evaluated for susceptibility to basil downy mildew (Peronospora belbahrii) at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Bridgeton in southern New Jersey. At the end of each growing season, seed was collected from individual plants and stored for potential downy mildew pathogen detection using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis. Most of the basil cultivars and breeding lines were showing symptoms of basil downy mildew infection at the time of seed collection before the first frost near the end of the production season. Symptoms of basil downy mildew were present on 25 of the 28 (89%) basil lines evaluated in 2009 and 26 of 32 (81%) basil lines tested in 2010 at the time of seed harvest, with sporulation evident on the abaxial surface of infected leaves. Real-time PCR analysis of seed collected from various infected plants detected P. belbahrii on seed of 14 of 25 (56%) basil lines tested in 2009 and 8 of 32 (25%) tested in 2010. Importantly, P. belbahrii was not only detected on seed of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) phenotypes but also on seed of ‘Spice’ basil (Ocimum americanum) in 2009 and ‘Sweet Dani Lemon Basil’ basil (Ocimum citriodorum), ‘Holy Red and Green’ basil [Ocimum tenuiflorum (form. sanctum)], ‘Lime’ basil (O. americanum), and again on ‘Spice’ basil in 2010 where no symptoms (i.e., no chlorosis or sporulation) were present on the leaves when seed were collected. This work demonstrates that basil seed, regardless of basil species and whether symptoms are visible on foliage of the basil plant or the plant is immune or resistant to downy mildew, can test positive for the presence of P. belbahrii using a real-time PCR assay following exposure of plants to the pathogen during the natural development of downy mildew under field conditions.