Ecological generalism drives hyperdiversity of secondary metabolite gene clusters in xylarialean endophytes

New Phytol. 2022 Feb;233(3):1317-1330. doi: 10.1111/nph.17873. Epub 2021 Dec 7.

Abstract

Although secondary metabolites are typically associated with competitive or pathogenic interactions, the high bioactivity of endophytic fungi in the Xylariales, coupled with their abundance and broad host ranges spanning all lineages of land plants and lichens, suggests that enhanced secondary metabolism might facilitate symbioses with phylogenetically diverse hosts. Here, we examined secondary metabolite gene clusters (SMGCs) across 96 Xylariales genomes in two clades (Xylariaceae s.l. and Hypoxylaceae), including 88 newly sequenced genomes of endophytes and closely related saprotrophs and pathogens. We paired genomic data with extensive metadata on endophyte hosts and substrates, enabling us to examine genomic factors related to the breadth of symbiotic interactions and ecological roles. All genomes contain hyperabundant SMGCs; however, Xylariaceae have increased numbers of gene duplications, horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) and SMGCs. Enhanced metabolic diversity of endophytes is associated with a greater diversity of hosts and increased capacity for lignocellulose decomposition. Our results suggest that, as host and substrate generalists, Xylariaceae endophytes experience greater selection to diversify SMGCs compared with more ecologically specialised Hypoxylaceae species. Overall, our results provide new evidence that SMGCs may facilitate symbiosis with phylogenetically diverse hosts, highlighting the importance of microbial symbioses to drive fungal metabolic diversity.

Keywords: Ascomycota; Xylariales; endophyte; plant-fungal interactions; saprotroph; specialised metabolism; symbiosis; trophic mode.