Understanding of the genetic basis for susceptibility and resistance is still lacking for most aquatic host-parasite systems, for instance, for phytoplankton and their fungal parasites. Fungal parasites can have significant effects on phytoplankton populations, mainly through their ability to decimate algal host populations during epidemics. We used random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis to study levels of genetic variation within a population of the freshwater diatom Asterionella formosa Hassall in relation to parasitism by the obligate, host-specific, fungal parasite Zygorhizidium planktonicum Canter. The level of genetic variation within the A. formosa population in Lake Maarsseveen, The Netherlands was found to be high despite the presumed absence or very low frequency of sexual reproduction in this species, the limited gene flow, and the severity of parasite attack that would purge the population from susceptible genotypes. RAPD analysis revealed four distinct banding patterns, with 3 of 21 markers (14%) being polymorphic. In AFLP analysis, every single isolate of A. formosa showed a unique banding pattern, and 120 of the 210 AFLP markers (57%) were found to be polymorphic. Furthermore, character compatibility analysis revealed that sexual reproduction may be one of the mechanisms that generates and maintains genetic variation in the A. formosa population in Lake Maarsseveen. The presence of genetic variation in A. formosa was reflected in infection experiments, which showed that genetically different A. formosa strains differed in their susceptibility to various Z. planktonicum strains and that parasite strains differed in their ability to infect particular host strains. [KEYWORDS: AFLP; genetic variation; parasitism; RAPD; Red Queen; sexual reproduction]
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Phycology
Journal publication date2004

ID: 149986