Experiments are presented which show that Botrytis cinerea, the cause of gray mould disease, is often present in symptomless lettuce plants as a systemic, endophytic, infection which may arise from seed. The fungus was isolated on selective media from surface sterilized sections of roots, stem pieces and leaf discs from symptomless plants grown in a conventional glasshouse and in a spore-free air-flow provided by an isolation propagator. The presence of B. cinerea was confirmed by immuno-labelling the tissues with the Botrytis-specific monoclonal antibody BC-12.CA4. As plants grew, infection spread from the roots to stems and leaves. Surface sterilization of seeds reduced the number of infected symptomless plants. Artificial infection of seedlings with dry conidia increased the rate of infection in some experiments. Selected isolates were genetically finger-printed using microsatellite loci. This confirmed systemic spread of the inoculating isolates but showed that other isolates were also present and that single plants hosted multiple isolates. This shows that B. cinerea commonly grows in lettuce plants as an endophyte, as has already been shown for Primula. If true for other hosts, the endophytic phase may be as important a component of the species population as the aggressive necrotrophic phase
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