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Mol Ecol. 2011 Jul;20(13):2739-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05138.x. Epub 2011 Jun 1.

The genetic structure of the plant pathogenic fungus Melampsora larici-populina on its wild host is extensively impacted by host domestication.

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INRA, Nancy-Université, UMR 1136 Interactions Arbres-Microorganismes, F-54280 Champenoux, France.


Wild and cultivated plants represent very different habitats for pathogens, especially when cultivated plants bear qualitative resistance genes. Here, we investigated to what extent the population genetic structure of a plant pathogenic fungus collected on its wild host can be impacted by the deployment of resistant cultivars. We studied one of the main poplar diseases, poplar rust, caused by the fungus Melampsora larici-populina. A thousand and fifty individuals sampled from several locations in France were phenotyped for their virulence profile (ability to infect or not the most deployed resistant cultivar 'Beaupré'), and a subset of these was genotyped using 25 microsatellite markers. Bayesian assignment tests on genetic data clustered the 476 genotyped individuals into three genetic groups. Group 1 gathered most virulent individuals and displayed evidence for selection and drastic demographic changes resulting from breakdown of the poplar cultivar 'Beaupré'. Group 2 comprised individuals corresponding to ancestral populations of M. larici-populina naturally occurring in the native range. Group 3 displayed the hallmarks of strict asexual reproduction, which has never previously been demonstrated in this species. We discuss how poplar cultivation has influenced the spatial and genetic structure of this plant pathogenic fungus, and has led to the spread of virulence alleles (gene swamping) in M. larici-populina populations evolving on the wild host.

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