Downy mildew of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) has become a serious disease issue for the producers of sweet basil in Switzerland since it was first recorded in 2001. Reported in Africa in Uganda as early as 1933, major outbreaks of this disease in Europe were first noted in Italy in 1999 and in the USA from 1993. Previous reports have named the pathogen as Peronospora lamii. Its preferential hosts belong to the Lamiaceae family including basils (Ocimum spp.), mints (Menta spp.), sages (Salvia spp.) and other aromatics. This study investigated the taxonomic status of the downy mildew pathogen, using both morphological characters and molecular analysis of the ITS region of the rDNA. The inherent variability of conidial dimensions made species differentiation difficult. Sequence homology and phylogenetic analysis of nine collections of the Peronospora on sweet basil showed unique ITS sequences distinct from those of P. lamii and any other sequenced Peronospora species. This paper describes and illustrates the morphology of this presumably undescribed species of Peronospora. Its taxonomic position and relationships with other related species in the same genus are presented and discussed. In addition to this work, PCR primers for real time PCR analysis have been developed for the specific detection of this downy mildew pathogen from infected tissues or seeds. It is shown that these primers can also be used in classic PCR.
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