Problems, Limitations, and Challenges in Species Identification of Ascomycota Members on the Basis of ITS Regions

Anna Baturo-Cieśniewska, Wojciech Pusz, Katarzyna Patejuk


The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region is regarded as a formal fungal primary barcode with a high probability of the correct identification for a broad group of fungi. ITS sequences have been widely used to determine many fungal species and analysis of rDNA ITS is still one of the most popular tools used in mycology. However, this region is not equally variable in all groups of fungi; therefore, identification may be problematic and result in ambiguous data, especially in some species-rich genera of Ascomycota. For these reasons, identification based on rDNA ITS is usually complemented by morphological observations and analysis of additional genes. Reliable species identification of Ascomycota members is essential in diagnosing plant diseases, verifying air quality and the effectiveness of agronomic practices, or analyzing relationships between microorganisms. Therefore, the present study aimed to verify, using specific examples, the extent to which ITS sequence analysis is useful in species identification of pathogens and saprobionts from Ascomycota and demonstrate problems related to such identification in practice. We analyzed 105 ITS sequences of isolates originating from air and plant material. Basic local alignment search tool (BLASTn) significantly contributed to the reliable species identification of nearly 80% of isolates such as Arthrinium arundinis, Beauveria bassiana, Boeremia exigua, Cladosporium cladosporioides, Epicoccum nigrum, Nigrospora oryzae, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, or Sordaria fimicola and members of the genera Alternaria and Trichoderma. However, for most isolates, additional morphological observations, information regarding the isolate origin and, where possible, a PCR with species-specific primers were helpful and complementary. Using our practical approach, we determined that ITS-based species identification and comparative analysis with GenBank sequences significantly helps identifying Ascomycota members. However, in many cases, this should be regarded as suggestive of a taxon because the data usually require the use of additional tools to verify the results of such analysis.


Ascomycota; fungi; internal transcribed spacer; molecular identification

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