Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 (Foc TR4) is threatening banana production worldwide. Despite quarantine efforts, the pathogen continues to spread; thus, early diagnosis plays an essential role for the proper execution of contingency plans. Here, we assess the accuracy of four PCR-based molecular methods described in the literature for the identification and detection of race 4 strains, including Subtropical (Foc STR4) and Tropical Race 4 causing Fusarium wilt of banana. We screened a total of 302 isolates using these four markers, and performed phylogenetic analyses, Vegetative Compatibility Group (VCG) testing, sequence comparison, and pathogenicity tests for selected isolates. Our results show that three out of the four markers tested are not reliable for identification of Foc STR4 and TR4, as DNA from isolates from Ecuador, pathogenic and nonpathogenic to banana, obtained from different banana cultivars, displayed cross-reaction with these methods; that is, false positives can occur during the diagnostic process for race 4. Phylogenetic analyses, VCG testing, sequence comparison, and pathogenicity tests suggest the presence of non-target F. oxysporum isolates that share genomic regions with pathogenic strains but lack true pathogenicity to banana. The findings of this work are of foremost importance for international regulatory agencies performing surveillance tests in pathogen-free areas using the current diagnostic methods. We suggest the use of a genetic locus possibly related to virulence, previously identified by T-DNA, and amplified with primers W2987F/ W2987R, for diagnosis of Foc TR4 as the most reliable alternative. We urge the adoption of a more holistic view in the study of F. oxysporum as a plant pathogen that considers the biology and diversity of the species for the development of better diagnostic tools.
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