Cooperation is associated with major transitions in evolution such as the emergence of multicellularity. It is central to the evolution of many complex traits in nature, including growth and virulence in pathogenic bacteria. Whether cells of multicellular parasites function cooperatively during infection remains, however, largely unknown. Here, we show that hyphal cells of the fungal pathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum reprogram toward division of labor to facilitate the colonization of host plants. Using global transcriptome sequencing, we reveal that gene expression patterns diverge markedly in cells at the center and apex of hyphae during Arabidopsis thaliana colonization compared with in vitro growth. We reconstructed a genome-scale metabolic model for S. sclerotiorum and used flux balance analysis to demonstrate metabolic heterogeneity supporting division of labor between hyphal cells. Accordingly, continuity between the central and apical compartments of invasive hyphae was required for optimal growth in planta Using a multicell model of fungal hyphae, we show that this cooperative functioning enhances fungal growth predominantly during host colonization. Our work identifies cooperation in fungal hyphae as a mechanism emerging at the multicellular level to support host colonization and virulence.
Keywords: division of labor; fungi; metabolic heterogeneity; systems biology; virulence.
Copyright © 2019 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.