Rust fungi are cosmopolitan in distribution and parasitize a wide range of plants, including economically important crop species such as wheat. Detailed regional, national, and continental surveys of pathogenic variability in wheat-attacking rust pathogens over periods of up to 90 years have shown that in the absence of sexual recombination, genetic diversity is generated by periodic introduction of exotic isolates, single-step mutation, and somatic hybridization. Laboratory studies have provided evidence for somatic hybridization between many rust species and formae speciales, and there is evidence for the process in nature within and between rust species on , poplar, , wheat, and several grass species. Although the mechanisms involved in somatic hybridization are not well understood, they are thought to involve the fusion of dikaryotic vegetative hyphae, nuclear exchange, and possibly exchange of whole chromosomes between nuclei or parasexuality via the fusion of the two haploid nuclei, followed by mitotic crossing over and vegetative haploidization. In three cases, hybrid isolates rendered resistant plant genotypes susceptible because of new combinations of virulence. Implications for resistance breeding and future prospects in understanding the process are discussed.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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