The aim of this study was to investigate differential expression profiles of the brown rot fungus Rhodonia placenta (previously Postia placenta) harvested at several time points when grown on radiata pine (Pinus radiata) and radiata pine with three different levels of modification by furfuryl alcohol, an environmentally benign commercial wood protection system. The entire gene expression pattern of a decay fungus was followed in untreated and modified wood from initial to advanced stages of decay. The results support the current model of a two-step decay mechanism, with the expression of genes related to initial oxidative depolymerization, followed by an accumulation of transcripts of genes related to the hydrolysis of cell wall polysaccharides. When the wood decay process is finished, the fungus goes into starvation mode after five weeks when grown on unmodified radiata pine wood. The pattern of repression of oxidative processes and oxalic acid synthesis found in radiata pine at later stages of decay is not mirrored for the high-furfurylation treatment. The high treatment level provided a more unpredictable expression pattern throughout the incubation period. Furfurylation does not seem to directly influence the expression of core plant cell wall-hydrolyzing enzymes, as a delayed and prolonged, but similar, pattern was observed in the radiata pine and the modified experiments. This indicates that the fungus starts a common decay process in the modified wood but proceeds at a slower pace as access to the plant cell wall polysaccharides is restricted. This is further supported by the downregulation of hydrolytic enzymes for the high treatment level at the last harvest point (mass loss, 14%). Moreover, the mass loss does not increase during the last weeks. Collectively, this indicates a potential threshold for lower mass loss for the high-furfurylation treatment.IMPORTANCE Fungi are important decomposers of woody biomass in natural habitats. Investigation of the mechanisms employed by decay fungi in their attempt to degrade wood is important for both the basic scientific understanding of ecology and carbon cycling in nature and for applied uses of woody materials. For wooden building materials, long service life and carbon storage are essential, but decay fungi are responsible for massive losses of wood in service. Thus, the optimization of durable wood products for the future is of major importance. In this study, we have investigated the fungal genetic response to furfurylated wood, a commercial environmentally benign wood modification approach that improves the service life of wood in outdoor applications. Our results show that there is a delayed wood decay by the fungus as a response to furfurylated wood, and new knowledge about the mechanisms behind the delay is provided.
Keywords: Pinus radiata; Postia placenta; furfurylation; gene regulation; radiata pine; transcriptome; wood decay; wood modification.
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