Genome structure and reproductive behaviour influence the evolutionary potential of a fungal phytopathogen

PLoS Pathog. 2012;8(11):e1003020. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003020. Epub 2012 Nov 8.


Modern agriculture favours the selection and spread of novel plant diseases. Furthermore, crop genetic resistance against pathogens is often rendered ineffective within a few years of its commercial deployment. Leptosphaeria maculans, the cause of phoma stem canker of oilseed rape, develops gene-for-gene interactions with its host plant, and has a high evolutionary potential to render ineffective novel sources of resistance in crops. Here, we established a four-year field experiment to monitor the evolution of populations confronted with the newly released Rlm7 resistance and to investigate the nature of the mutations responsible for virulence against Rlm7. A total of 2551 fungal isolates were collected from experimental crops of a Rlm7 cultivar or a cultivar without Rlm7. All isolates were phenotyped for virulence and a subset was genotyped with neutral genetic markers. Virulent isolates were investigated for molecular events at the AvrLm4-7 locus. Whilst virulent isolates were not found in neighbouring crops, their frequency had reached 36% in the experimental field after four years. An extreme diversity of independent molecular events leading to virulence was identified in populations, with large-scale Repeat Induced Point mutations or complete deletion of AvrLm4-7 being the most frequent. Our data suggest that increased mutability of fungal genes involved in the interactions with plants is directly related to their genomic environment and reproductive system. Thus, rapid allelic diversification of avirulence genes can be generated in L. maculans populations in a single field provided that large population sizes and sexual reproduction are favoured by agricultural practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ascomycota / physiology*
  • Epistasis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Loci / physiology
  • Genome, Fungal / physiology*
  • Plant Diseases / genetics*
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / microbiology

Grant support

This work was funded by the ANR project CEDRE (ANR-PADD-005), the CASDAR Project 05391(2006–09) « Mise au point et utilisation d'outils de biovigilance et de gestion durable des résistances variétales aux pathogènes », and a grant from the Santé des Plantes et Environnement (SPE) INRA department. G. Daverdin was funded by the French ministry of research. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.