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Phytopathology. 2016 Feb;106(2):104-12. doi: 10.1094/PHYTO-08-15-0184-RVW. Epub 2016 Jan 29.

The Role of Hybridization in the Evolution and Emergence of New Fungal Plant Pathogens.

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Environmental Genomics, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, Am Botanischen Garten 9-11, 24118 Kiel, Germany and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, August-Thienemann-Str. 2, 24306 Plön, Germany.


Hybridization in fungi has recently been recognized as a major force in the generation of new fungal plant pathogens. These include the grass pathogen Zymoseptoria pseudotritici and the powdery mildew pathogen Blumeria graminis triticale of triticale. Hybridization also plays an important role in the transfer of genetic material between species. This process is termed introgressive hybridization and involves extensive backcrossing between hybrid and the parental species. Introgressive hybridization has contributed substantially to the successful spread of plant pathogens such as Ophiostoma ulmi and O. novo-ulmi, the causal agents of Dutch elm disease, and other tree pathogens such as the rust pathogen Melampsora. Hybridization occurs more readily between species that have previously not coexisted, so-called allopatric species. Reproductive barriers between allopatric species are likely to be more permissive allowing interspecific mating to occur. The bringing together of allopatric species of plant pathogens by global agricultural trade consequently increases the potential for hybridization between pathogen species. In light of global environmental changes, agricultural development, and the facilitated long-distance spread of fungal plant pathogens, hybridization should be considered an important mechanism whereby new pathogens may emerge. Recent studies have gained insight into the genetics and biology of fungal hybrids. Here I summarize current knowledge about hybrid speciation and introgressive hybridization. I propose that future studies will benefit greatly from the availability of large genome data sets and that genome data provide a powerful resource in combination with experimental approaches for analyses of hybrid species.


genome evolution; genomic conflicts; host specificities

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