Feruloyl esterase Fae1 is required specifically for host colonisation by the rice-blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae

Curr Genet. 2021 Sep 15. doi: 10.1007/s00294-021-01213-z. Online ahead of print.


Plant cell wall acts as a primary barrier for microbial pathogens during infection. A cell wall-degrading enzyme thus may be a crucial virulence factor, as it may aid the pathogen in successful host invasion. Nine genes coding for feruloyl esterases (Fae), likely involved in plant cell wall degradation, have been annotated in the genome of the cereal-blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae. However, role of any Fae in pathogenicity of M. oryzae remains hitherto under explored. Here, we identified FAE1 gene (MGG_08737) that was significantly upregulated during host penetration and subsequent colonisation stages of infection. Accordingly, while deletion of FAE1 in M. oryzae did not affect the vegetative growth and asexual development, the fae1Δ mutant showed significantly reduced pathogenesis on rice plants, mainly due to impaired host invasion and colonisation. Very few (< 10%) fae1Δ appressoria that formed the primary invasive hyphae failed to elaborate from the first invaded cell to the neighbouring plant cells. Interestingly, exogenously added glucose, as a simple carbon source, or ferulic acid, a product of the Fae activity, significantly supported the invasive growth of the fae1Δ mutant. We show that the Fae1-based feruloyl esterase activity, by targeting the plant cell wall, plays an important role in accumulating ferulic acid and/or sugar molecules, as a likely energy source, to enable host invasion and colonisation by M. oryzae. Given its role in plant cell wall digestion and host colonisation, M. oryzae Fae1 could be a potential candidate for a novel antifungal strategy and a biotechnological application in biofuel production.

Keywords: Blast disease; Cell wall degradation; Ferulic acid; Host invasion; Magnaporthe; Pyricularia.