Verticillium dahliae is an important soil-borne fungal pathogen that causes vascular wilt diseases in a large variety of important crop plants. Due to its persistence in the soil, control of Verticillium wilt relies heavily on soil fumigation. The global ban on methyl bromide, a highly effective soil fumigant, poses an urgent need to develop alternative control measures against Verticillium wilt; and these might be more forthcoming with a better understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underpin the pathogenicity of V. dahliae. In this study, we assessed the role in growth, development, and pathogenicity of VMK1, a gene encoding a mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase (hence, Verticillium M AP K inase 1). Disruption of VMK1 via Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation, in two V. dahliae isolates, one from lettuce and the other from tomato, resulted in severely reduced virulence in diverse host plants, suggesting that VMK1 is essential for pathogenicity and that the MAP kinase-mediated signaling pathway has a conserved role in fungal pathogenicity. The vmk1 mutants also exhibited reduced conidiation and microsclerotia formation, suggesting that the gene is important for multiple cellular processes.
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