Fungal infection strategy lies in the genes

24 August 2012

An international consortium of researchers discovered a direct link between gene equipment, its activation and infection strategy, and lifestyle of plant pathogenic Colletotrichum fungi. The study, to which researchers from the The Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS-KNAW) and the University of Amsterdam made an important contribution, was just released online in the journal Nature Genetics.

During infection, these pathogens successively form specific structures, which are linked to different lifestyles, from entering and exploiting living host cells to killing them. The researchers compared genomes and transcriptomes of two species with different host spectrum and infection strategies: C. higginsianum that quickly kills the tissue of several Brassicaceae, and C. graminicola that is restricted to maize, keeping its tissue alive for a longer period. Although the two species are closely related, their genomes are surprisingly different, both due to the diverse cell wall composition of the hosts and the different infection strategies. Additionally, specific genes are activated when switching to a different lifestyle. The study provides the basis of a better understanding of the function of fungal infection structures and of host specialisation.

Conidia - left - and appressoria - right - from the colletotrichum graminicola

Contribution of Dutch researchers

Ulrike Damm (CBS-KNAW) focused on the phylogenetic classification of the two species and provided a multigene phylogeny explaining the relationships within the genus Colletotrichum. H. Charlotte van der Does (University Amsterdam) was involved in manually curating gene models.