Cercospora beticola is a hemibiotrophic fungus that causes cercospora leaf spot disease of sugar beet (Beta vulgaris). After an initial symptomless biotrophic phase of colonization, necrotic lesions appear on host leaves as the fungus switches to a necrotrophic lifestyle. The phytotoxic secondary metabolite cercosporin has been shown to facilitate fungal virulence for several Cercospora spp. However, because cercosporin production and subsequent cercosporin-initiated formation of reactive oxygen species is light-dependent, cell death evocation by this toxin is only fully ensured during a period of light. Here, we report the discovery of the effector protein CbNip1 secreted by C. beticola that causes enhanced necrosis in the absence of light and, therefore, may complement light-dependent necrosis formation by cercosporin. Infiltration of CbNip1 protein into sugar beet leaves revealed that darkness is essential for full CbNip1-triggered necrosis, as light exposure delayed CbNip1-triggered host cell death. Gene expression analysis during host infection shows that CbNip1 expression is correlated with symptom development in planta. Targeted gene replacement of CbNip1 leads to a significant reduction in virulence, indicating the importance of CbNip1 during colonization. Analysis of 89 C. beticola genomes revealed that CbNip1 resides in a region that recently underwent a selective sweep, suggesting selection pressure exists to maintain a beneficial variant of the gene. Taken together, CbNip1 is a crucial effector during the C. beticola-sugar beet disease process.
Keywords: Cercospora beticola; necrosis-inducing effector; virulence factor.
© 2020 This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA. Molecular Plant Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.