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New Phytol. 2015 Jun;206(4):1207-28. doi: 10.1111/nph.13284. Epub 2015 Jan 26.

Host-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions in the evolution of obligate plant parasitism.

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Max Planck Research Group Fungal Biodiversity, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Carl-von-Linne Weg 10, 50829, Cologne, Germany.


Research on obligate biotrophic plant parasites, which reproduce only on living hosts, has revealed a broad diversity of filamentous microbes that have independently acquired complex morphological structures, such as haustoria. Genome studies have also demonstrated a concerted loss of genes for metabolism and lytic enzymes, and gain of diversity of genes coding for effectors involved in host defense suppression. So far, these traits converge in all known obligate biotrophic parasites, but unexpected genome plasticity remains. This plasticity is manifested as transposable element (TE)-driven increases in genome size, observed to be associated with the diversification of virulence genes under selection pressure. Genome expansion could result from the governing of the pathogen response to ecological selection pressures, such as host or nutrient availability, or to microbial interactions, such as competition, hyperparasitism and beneficial cooperations. Expansion is balanced by alternating sexual and asexual cycles, as well as selfing and outcrossing, which operate to control transposon activity in populations. In turn, the prevalence of these balancing mechanisms seems to be correlated with external biotic factors, suggesting a complex, interconnected evolutionary network in host-pathogen-microbe interactions. Therefore, the next phase of obligate biotrophic pathogen research will need to uncover how this network, including multitrophic interactions, shapes the evolution and diversity of pathogens.


adaptation; biotrophy; comparative genomics; convergent evolution; effector diversification; microbe-microbe interactions; plant-microbe interactions; sexual/asexual reproduction

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