Open Access Open Badges Research article

Auxin as a player in the biocontrol of Fusarium head blight disease of barley and its potential as a disease control agent

Carloalberto Petti12*, Kathrin Reiber1, Shahin S Ali1, Margaret Berney1 and Fiona M Doohan3

Author Affiliations

1 Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interaction Group, School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Science Education and Research Centre West, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland

2 Current address: Department of Horticulture, Science Centre North, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 40502, USA

3 UCD School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, Room 148, Science Education and Research Centre West, UCD, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

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BMC Plant Biology 2012, 12:224  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-12-224

Published: 22 November 2012



Mechanisms involved in the biological control of plant diseases are varied and complex. Hormones, including the auxin indole acetic acid (IAA) and abscisic acid (ABA), are essential regulators of a multitude of biological functions, including plant responses to biotic and abiotic stressors. This study set out to determine what hormones might play a role in Pseudomonas fluorescens –mediated control of Fusarium head blight (FHB) disease of barley and to determine if biocontrol-associated hormones directly affect disease development.


A previous study distinguished bacterium-responsive genes from bacterium-primed genes, distinguished by the fact that the latter are only up-regulated when both P. fluorescens and the pathogen Fusarium culmorum are present. In silico analysis of the promoter sequences available for a subset of the bacterium-primed genes identified several hormones, including IAA and ABA as potential regulators of transcription. Treatment with the bacterium or pathogen resulted in increased IAA and ABA levels in head tissue; both microbes had additive effects on the accumulation of IAA but not of ABA. The microbe-induced accumulation of ABA preceded that of IAA. Gene expression analysis showed that both hormones up-regulated the accumulation of bacterium-primed genes. But IAA, more than ABA up-regulated the transcription of the ABA biosynthesis gene NCED or the signalling gene Pi2, both of which were previously shown to be bacterium-responsive rather than primed. Application of IAA, but not of ABA reduced both disease severity and yield loss caused by F. culmorum, but neither hormone affect in vitro fungal growth.


Both IAA and ABA are involved in the P. fluorescens-mediated control of FHB disease of barley. Gene expression studies also support the hypothesis that IAA plays a role in the primed response to F. culmorum. This hypothesis was validated by the fact that pre-application of IAA reduced both symptoms and yield loss asssociated with the disease. This is the first evidence that IAA plays a role in the control of FHB disease and in the bacterial priming of host defences.

Hormone; IAA; ABA; Pseudomonas fluorescens; Biocontrol; Fusarium head blight