Gene flow within populations can occur by sexual and/or parasexual means. Analyses of experimental and in silico work are presented relevant to possible gene flow within the aspergilli. First, the discovery of mating-type (MAT) genes within certain species of Aspergillus is described. The implications for self-fertility, sexuality in supposedly asexual species and possible uses as phylogenetic markers are discussed. Second, the results of data mining for heterokaryon incompatibility (het) and programmed cell death (PCD) related genes in the genomes of two heterokaryon incompatible isolates of the asexual species Aspergillus niger are reported. Het-genes regulate the formation of anastomoses and heterokaryons, may protect resources and prevent the spread of infectious genetic elements. Depending on the het locus involved, hetero-allelism is not tolerated and fusion of genetically different individuals leads to growth inhibition or cell death. The high natural level of heterokaryon incompatibility in A. niger blocks parasexual analysis of the het-genes involved, but in silico experiments in the sequenced genomes allow us to identify putative het-genes. Homologous sequences to known het- and PCD-genes were compared between different sexual and asexual species including different Aspergillus species, Sordariales and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both het- and PCD-genes were well conserved in A. niger. However some point mutations and other small differences between the het-genes in the two A. niger isolates examined may hint to functions in heterokaryon incompatibility reactions.
Keywords: Aspergillus fumigatus; Aspergillus nidulans; Aspergillus niger; MAT; Neurospora crassa; Podospora anserina; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; apoptosis; ascomycete; heterokaryon incompatibility; mating type; self/non-self recognition.