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The newly discovered fungus septoria krystynae. How to fight mistletoe?

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The newly discovered fungus can be used to control the invasion of mistletoe in Polish forests. To combat the troublesome shingles parasite, scientists want to use microorganisms of the species Septoria krystynae, which damage its leaves. This way of controlling the mistletoe population is not only environmentally friendly, but can also be very effective.

common mistletoe (Viscum album) reminds us of Christmas. Although we usually only remember about it during the holiday season, this half-parasite is present in ecosystems all year round, causing great damage to forests, orchards and plant nurseries. The plant, formerly found mainly on deciduous trees, is increasingly appearing on coniferous species, including Scots pine, commonly cultivated in Poland (Pinus sylvestris). Scientists suspect that the expansion of mistletoe into conifers is related to climate change.

As explained by Sebastian Piskorski from the Department of Algology and Mycology, Biology and Environmental Protection, University of Lodz, the development of mistletoe leads to the death of trees, because the parasite not only draws water and mineral salts from the host, but also facilitates the spread of diseases. At the same time, combating mistletoe is very difficult – in the world, mechanical removal methods and chemical agents are used in the fight against it, but, unfortunately, they are only partially effective.

Mistletoe mushroom

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In many countries, biological methods of combating harmful plants with natural parasites of a given species are also used. So far, several species that parasitize mistletoe have been known, but none of them has been sufficiently studied. Scientists from the Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection of the University of Lodz and the Institute of Forest Sciences of the Białystok University of Technology want to change this. They have started a research project to search for fungal species that will limit the growth and development of mistletoe.

– We collect mistletoe plants from all over the country and check if they show any disease symptoms. If they are caused by fungi, we grow them on artificial substrates in laboratory conditions in order to subject them to microscopic analysis and genetic testing – explained Piskorski.

During the research, scientists managed to discover and describe a new species of microscopic fungus, which was named Krystynae septoria. This fungus, found by Marek Wołkowycki from the Institute of Forest Sciences of the Białowieża Forest, is a parasite of common mistletoe and causes a disease called septoria, which manifests itself as leaf spot.

Common mistletoe on a treeShutterstock

Biological protection measures

As explained by Małgorzata Ruszkiewicz-Michalska from the Department of Algology and Mycology of the University of Lodz, who is conducting the research project, whether S. krystynae can be used to fight mistletoe invasion, it depends on many factors.

– It should be remembered that a fungus is not a chemical agent that we apply and obtain 100% effectiveness – she explained – Mushrooms are living organisms that can mutate and adapt to new conditions.

She added that fungi can capture fragments of genes from other organisms and incorporate them into their own DNA. This ability allows them to more easily adapt to the physiology of these organisms and parasitize them more effectively. However, it is easy to imagine that this ability can also be dangerous.

Scientists want to know all the fungi parasitizing mistletoe attacking Polish forests. On the basis of these observations, it will be possible to carry out tests for the pathogenicity of various species of fungi in relation to the hemiparasite.

Mistletoe is becoming a problem for pine standsNational forests

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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