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Mol Biol Evol. 2006 Feb;23(2):338-51. Epub 2005 Oct 19.

Ancient origin of elicitin gene clusters in Phytophthora genomes.

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Laboratory of Phytopathology, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.


The genus Phytophthora belongs to the oomycetes in the eukaryotic stramenopile lineage and is comprised of over 65 species that are all destructive plant pathogens on a wide range of dicotyledons. Phytophthora produces elicitins (ELIs), a group of extracellular elicitor proteins that cause a hypersensitive response in tobacco. Database mining revealed several new classes of elicitin-like (ELL) sequences with diverse elicitin domains in Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora sojae, Phytophthora brassicae, and Phytophthora ramorum. ELIs and ELLs were shown to be unique to Phytophthora and Pythium species. They are ubiquitous among Phytophthora species and belong to one of the most highly conserved and complex protein families in the Phytophthora genus. Phylogeny construction with elicitin domains derived from 156 ELIs and ELLs showed that most of the diversified family members existed prior to divergence of Phytophthora species from a common ancestor. Analysis to discriminate diversifying and purifying selection showed that all 17 ELI and ELL clades are under purifying selection. Within highly similar ELI groups there was no evidence for positively selected amino acids suggesting that purifying selection contributes to the continued existence of this diverse protein family. Characteristic cysteine spacing patterns were found for each phylogenetic clade. Except for the canonical clade ELI-1, ELIs and ELLs possess C-terminal domains of variable length, many of which have a high threonine, serine, or proline content suggesting an association with the cell wall. In addition, some ELIs and ELLs have a predicted glycosylphosphatidylinositol site suggesting anchoring of the C-terminal domain to the cell membrane. The eli and ell genes belonging to different clades are clustered in the genomes. Overall, eli and ell genes are expressed at different levels and in different life cycle stages but those sharing the same phylogenetic clade appear to have similar expression patterns.

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