Septoria leaf spot is a significant disease affecting cultivated stevia, potentially reducing yields by > 50%. The disease is caused by Septoria steviae, first identified in 1978 in Japan as a new pathogen of stevia. Understanding the origin of S. steviae could clarify how it spread to new production areas. To investigate this, twelve isolates of Septoria sp. were obtained from stevia's native range in the Amambay forests and field plantings in Paraguay from 2018 to 2020. These isolates underwent colony morphology and molecular characterization of Actin, β-Tubulin, Calmodulin, ITS, LSU, RPB2, and TEF1α loci. GenBank sequences from S. steviae isolates collected in France, Japan, and the United States (USA) were included. Multi-locus sequence phylogenetic analysis generated a maximum likelihood (ML) tree. The morphological characteristics of Paraguayan isolates were similar to previously reported S. steviae type cultures from Japan. The ML analysis showed that Paraguayan isolates formed a monophyletic group with S. steviae isolates from France, Japan, and the USA. During blotter tests, pycnidia and cirri of S. steviae were observed on multiple stevia seed surfaces from different sources. Further characterization confirmed viable pathogenic conidia of S. steviae. This observation suggests that S. steviae could be associated with stevia seed, possibly spreading from the center of origin to other countries. This research is the first to genetically characterize S. steviae from Paraguay and propose its potential spread mechanism from the center of origin to the rest of the world.

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