Divergent and Convergent Evolution of Fungal Pathogenicity

Genome Biol Evol. 2016 May 12;8(5):1374-87. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evw082.


Fungal pathogens of plants and animals have multifarious effects; they cause devastating damages to agricultures, lead to life-threatening diseases in humans, or induce beneficial effects by reducing insect pest populations. Many virulence factors have been determined in different fungal pathogens; however, the molecular determinants contributing to fungal host selection and adaptation are largely unknown. In this study, we sequenced the genomes of seven ascomycete insect pathogens and performed the genome-wide analyses of 33 species of filamentous ascomycete pathogenic fungi that infect insects (12 species), plants (12), and humans (9). Our results revealed that the genomes of plant pathogens encode more proteins and protein families than the insect and human pathogens. Unexpectedly, more common orthologous protein groups are shared between the insect and plant pathogens than between the two animal group pathogens. We also found that the pathogenicity of host-adapted fungi evolved multiple times, and that both divergent and convergent evolutions occurred during pathogen-host cospeciation thus resulting in protein families with similar features in each fungal group. However, the role of phylogenetic relatedness on the evolution of protein families and therefore pathotype formation could not be ruled out due to the effect of common ancestry. The evolutionary correlation analyses led to the identification of different protein families that correlated with alternate pathotypes. Particularly, the effector-like proteins identified in plant and animal pathogens were strongly linked to fungal host adaptation, suggesting the existence of similar gene-for-gene relationships in fungus-animal interactions that has not been established before. These results well advance our understanding of the evolution of fungal pathogenicity and the factors that contribute to fungal pathotype formation.

Keywords: comparative genomics; convergent evolution; effector; fungal pathogen; host adaptation; pathotype.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascomycota / genetics*
  • Ascomycota / pathogenicity
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Fungal
  • Humans
  • Insecta / microbiology
  • Plant Diseases / genetics
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Virulence / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / genetics*


  • Virulence Factors