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Title: Wild Isolates of Neurospora crassa Reveal Three Conidiophore Architectural Phenotypes
The vegetative life cycle in the model filamentous fungus, Neurospora crassa, relies on the development of conidiophores to produce new spores. Environmental, temporal, and genetic components of conidiophore development have been well characterized; however, little is known about their morphological variation. We explored conidiophore architectural variation in a natural population using a wild population collection of 21 strains from Louisiana, United States of America (USA). Our work reveals three novel architectural phenotypes, Wild Type, Bulky, and Wrap, and shows their maintenance throughout the duration of conidiophore development. Furthermore, we present a novel image-classifier using a convolutional neural network specifically developed to assign conidiophore architectural phenotypes in a high-throughput manner. To estimate an inheritance model for this discrete complex trait, crosses between strains of each phenotype were conducted, and conidiophores of subsequent progeny were characterized using the trained classifier. Our model suggests that conidiophore architecture is controlled by at least two genes and has a heritability of 0.23. Additionally, we quantified the number of conidia produced by each conidiophore type and their dispersion distance, suggesting that conidiophore architectural phenotype may impact N. crassa colonization capacity.
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  1. Abstract

    Neurospora crassa propagates through dissemination of conidia, which develop through specialized structures called conidiophores. Recent work has identified striking variation in conidiophore morphology, using a wild population collection from Louisiana, United States of America to classify 3 distinct phenotypes: Wild-Type, Wrap, and Bulky. Little is known about the impact of these phenotypes on sporulation or germination later in the N. crassa life cycle, or about the genetic variation that underlies them. In this study, we show that conidiophore morphology likely affects colonization capacity of wild N. crassa isolates through both sporulation distance and germination on different carbon sources. We generated and crossed homokaryotic strains belonging to each phenotypic group to more robustly fit a model for and estimate heritability of the complex trait, conidiophore architecture. Our fitted model suggests at least 3 genes and 2 epistatic interactions contribute to conidiophore phenotype, which has an estimated heritability of 0.47. To uncover genes contributing to these phenotypes, we performed RNA-sequencing on mycelia and conidiophores of strains representing each of the 3 phenotypes. Our results show that the Bulky strain had a distinct transcriptional profile from that of Wild-Type and Wrap, exhibiting differential expression patterns in clock-controlled genes (ccgs), the conidiation-specific genemore »con-6, and genes implicated in metabolism and communication. Combined, these results present novel ecological impacts of and differential gene expression underlying natural conidiophore morphological variation, a complex trait that has not yet been thoroughly explored.

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