Pathogen population genetics, evolutionary potential, and durable resistance

Annu Rev Phytopathol. 2002;40:349-79. doi: 10.1146/annurev.phyto.40.120501.101443. Epub 2002 Feb 20.


We hypothesize that the evolutionary potential of a pathogen population is reflected in its population genetic structure. Pathogen populations with a high evolutionary potential are more likely to overcome genetic resistance than pathogen populations with a low evolutionary potential. We propose a flexible framework to predict the evolutionary potential of pathogen populations based on analysis of their genetic structure. According to this framework, pathogens that pose the greatest risk of breaking down resistance genes have a mixed reproduction system, a high potential for genotype flow, large effective population sizes, and high mutation rates. The lowest risk pathogens are those with strict asexual reproduction, low potential for gene flow, small effective population sizes, and low mutation rates. We present examples of high-risk and low-risk pathogens. We propose general guidelines for a rational approach to breed durable resistance according to the evolutionary potential of the pathogen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungi / genetics*
  • Fungi / pathogenicity
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Plant Diseases / genetics
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology*
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Virulence / genetics