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Plant Physiol. 2010 Nov;154(3):1549-57. doi: 10.1104/pp.110.163014. Epub 2010 Sep 13.

Mrt, a gene unique to fungi, encodes an oligosaccharide transporter and facilitates rhizosphere competency in Metarhizium robertsii.

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  • 1Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


The symbiotic associations between rhizospheric fungi and plants have enormous environmental impact. Fungi are crucial to plant health as antagonists of pathogens and herbivores and facilitate the uptake of soil nutrients. However, little is known about the plant products obtained by fungi in exchange or how they are transported through the symbiotic interface. Here, we demonstrate that sucrose and raffinose family oligosaccharides in root exudates are important for rhizosphere competence in the insect pathogen Metarhizium robertsii (formerly known as Metarhizium anisopliae). We identified mutants in the Metarhizium raffinose transporter (Mrt) gene of M. robertsii that grew poorly in root exudate and were greatly reduced in rhizosphere competence on grass roots. Studies on sugar uptake, including competition assays, revealed that MRT was a sucrose and galactoside transporter. Disrupting MRT resulted in greatly reduced or no growth on sucrose and galactosides but did not affect growth on monosaccharides or oligosaccharides composed entirely of glucose subunits. Consistent with this, expression of Mrt is exclusively up-regulated by galactosides and sucrose. Expressing a green fluorescent protein gene under the control of the Mrt promoter confirmed that MRT was expressed by germlings in the vicinity of grass roots but not in surrounding bulk soil. Disrupting Mrt did not reduce virulence to insects, demonstrating that Mrt is exclusively involved in M. robertsii's interactions with plants. To our knowledge, MRT is the first oligosaccharide transporter identified and characterized in a fungus and is unique to filamentous fungi, but homologous genes in Magnaporthe, Ustilago, Aspergillus, Fusarium, Epichloe, and Penicillium species indicate that oligosaccharide transport is of widespread significance.

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