Background: Cochliobolus heterostrophus is a dothideomycete that causes Southern Corn Leaf Blight disease. There are two races, race O and race T that differ by the absence (race O) and presence (race T) of ~ 1.2-Mb of DNA encoding genes responsible for the production of T-toxin, which makes race T much more virulent than race O. The presence of repetitive elements in fungal genomes is considered to be an important source of genetic variability between different species.
Results: A detailed analysis of class I and II TEs identified in the near complete genome sequence of race O was performed. In total in race O, 12 new families of transposons were identified. In silico evidence of recent activity was found for many of the transposons and analyses of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) demonstrated that these elements were actively transcribed. Various potentially active TEs were found near coding regions and may modify the expression and structure of these genes by acting as ectopic recombination sites. Transposons were found on scaffolds carrying polyketide synthase encoding genes, responsible for production of T-toxin in race T. Strong evidence of ectopic recombination was found, demonstrating that TEs can play an important role in the modulation of genome architecture of this species. The Repeat Induced Point mutation (RIP) silencing mechanism was shown to have high specificity in C. heterostrophus, acting only on transposons near coding regions.
Conclusions: New families of transposons were identified. In C. heterostrophus, the RIP silencing mechanism is efficient and selective. The co-localization of effector genes and TEs, therefore, exposes those genes to high rates of point mutations. This may accelerate the rate of evolution of these genes, providing a potential advantage for the host. Additionally, it was shown that ectopic recombination promoted by TEs appears to be the major event in the genome reorganization of this species and that a large number of elements are still potentially active. So, this study provides information about the potential impact of TEs on the evolution of C. heterostrophus.