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Title: Cause and Effectors: Whole-Genome Comparisons Reveal Shared but Rapidly Evolving Effector Sets among Host-Specific Plant-Castrating Fungi
ABSTRACT Plant pathogens utilize a portfolio of secreted effectors to successfully infect and manipulate their hosts. It is, however, still unclear whether changes in secretomes leading to host specialization involve mostly effector gene gains/losses or changes in their sequences. To test these hypotheses, we compared the secretomes of three host-specific castrating anther smut fungi ( Microbotryum ), two being sister species. To address within-species evolution, which might involve coevolution and local adaptation, we compared the secretomes of strains from differentiated populations. We experimentally validated a subset of signal peptides. Secretomes ranged from 321 to 445 predicted secreted proteins (SPs), including a few species-specific proteins (42 to 75), and limited copy number variation, i.e., little gene family expansion or reduction. Between 52% and 68% of the SPs did not match any Pfam domain, a percentage that reached 80% for the small secreted proteins, indicating rapid evolution. In comparison to background genes, we indeed found SPs to be more differentiated among species and strains, more often under positive selection, and highly expressed in planta ; repeat-induced point mutations (RIPs) had no role in effector diversification, as SPs were not closer to transposable elements than background genes and were not more RIP affected. Our study thus identified both conserved core proteins, likely required for the pathogenic life cycle of all Microbotryum species, and proteins that were species specific or evolving under positive selection; these proteins may be involved in host specialization and/or coevolution. Most changes among closely related host-specific pathogens, however, involved rapid changes in sequences rather than gene gains/losses. IMPORTANCE Plant pathogens use molecular weapons to successfully infect their hosts, secreting a large portfolio of various proteins and enzymes. Different plant species are often parasitized by host-specific pathogens; however, it is still unclear whether the molecular basis of such host specialization involves species-specific weapons or different variants of the same weapons. We therefore compared the genes encoding secreted proteins in three plant-castrating pathogens parasitizing different host plants, producing their spores in plant anthers by replacing pollen. We validated our predictions for secretion signals for some genes and checked that our predicted secreted proteins were often highly expressed during plant infection. While we found few species-specific secreted proteins, numerous genes encoding secreted proteins showed signs of rapid evolution and of natural selection. Our study thus found that most changes among closely related host-specific pathogens involved rapid adaptive changes in shared molecular weapons rather than innovations for new weapons.  more » « less
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