Common PCR assays for quantification of fungi in living plants cannot be used to study saprophytic colonization of fungi because plant decomposition releases PCR-inhibiting substances and saprophytes degrade the plant DNA which could serve as internal standard. The microsatellite PCR assays presented here overcome these problems by spiking samples prior to DNA extraction with mycelium of a reference strain. PCR with fluorescent primers co-amplifies microsatellite fragments of different length from target and reference strains. These fragments were separated in a capillary sequencer with fluorescence detection. The target/reference ratio of fluorescence signal was used to calculate target biomass in the sample. Such PCR assays were developed for the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON)-producing wheat and maize pathogen Fusarium graminearum and the biocontrol agent Trichoderma atroviride, using new microsatellite markers. In contrast to real-time PCR assays, the novel PCR assays showed reliable fungal biomass quantification in samples with differentially decomposed plant tissue. The PCR assays were used to quantify the two fungi after competitive colonization of autoclaved maize leaf tissue in microcosms. Using a DON-producing F. graminearum wild-type strain and its nontoxigenic mutant we found no evidence for a role of DON production in F. graminearum defense against T. atroviride. The presence of T. atroviride resulted in a 36% lower wild-type DON production per biomass.
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