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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Apr;28(4):1425-37. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq327. Epub 2010 Dec 3.

Rapid genetic diversification and high fitness penalties associated with pathogenicity evolution in a plant virus.

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  • 1Centro de Biotecnología y Genómica de Plantas (UPM-INIA) and ETSI Agrónomos, Campus de Montegancedo, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain.


Under the gene-for-gene model of host-pathogen coevolution, recognition of pathogen avirulence factors by host resistance factors triggers host defenses and limits infection. Theory predicts that the evolution of higher levels of pathogenicity will be associated with fitness penalties and that the cost of higher pathogenicity must be much smaller than that of not infecting the host. The analysis of pathogenicity costs is of academic and applied relevance, as these are determinants for the success of resistance genes bred into crops for disease control. However, most previous attempts of addressing this issue in plant pathogens yielded conflicting and inconclusive results. We have analyzed the costs of pathogenicity in pepper-infecting tobamoviruses defined by their ability to infect pepper plants with different alleles at the resistance locus L. We provide conclusive evidence of pathogenicity-associated costs by comparison of pathotype frequency with the fraction of the crop carrying the various resistance alleles, by timescaled phylogenies, and by temporal analyses of population dynamics and selection pressures using nucleotide sequences. In addition, experimental estimates of relative fitness under controlled conditions also provided evidence of high pathogenicity costs. These high pathogenicity costs may reflect intrinsic properties of plant virus genomes and should be considered in future models of host-parasite coevolution.

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