Benzoxazinoid (Bx) metabolites produced by wheat and other members of the Poaceae have activity against Fusarium sp. that cause cereal diseases including Fusarium head blight (FHB) on wheat and barley. Certain Bx metabolites can be detoxified by Fusarium sp. with the arylamine N-acetyltransferase NAT1. Investigation of this pathway may reveal strategies for increasing FHB resistance, such as selection for higher levels of Bx metabolites within existing germplasm and/or engineering fungal susceptibility via host induced silencing of NAT1. We assessed the reactions of fifteen wheat cultivars or breeding lines adapted to the Northwestern United States to infection with F. graminearum Δnat1 mutants that should be sensitive to Bx metabolites. Significant differences were noted in disease severity and deoxynivalenol (DON) among the cultivars 21 d after inoculation with either mutant or wildtype (PH1) strains. Mutant vs. wildtype strains did not result in significant variation for infection severity (as measured by % infected florets), but inoculation with Δnat1 mutants vs. wildtype resulted in significantly lower DON concentrations in mature kernels (p < 0.0001). Of the cultivars tested, HRS3419 was the most resistant cultivar to PH1 (severity = 62%, DON = 45 ppm) and Δnat1 mutants (severity = 61%, DON = 30 ppm). The cultivar most susceptible to infection was Kelse with PH1 (severity = 100%, DON = 292 ppm) and Δnat1 mutants (severity = 100%, DON = 158 ppm). We hypothesized that sub-lethal Bx metabolite levels may suppress DON production in F. graminearum Δnat1 mutants. In vitro assays of Bx metabolites BOA, MBOA, and DIMBOA at 30 μM did not affect growth, but did reduce DON production by Δnat1 and PH1. Although the levels of Bx metabolites are likely too low in the wheat cultivars we tested to suppress FHB, higher levels of Bx metabolites may contribute towards reductions in DON and FHB.
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