Abstracts (first author)
Coevolution and life cycle specialization of plant cell wall degrading enzymes in a hemibiotrophic pathogen
Zymoseptoria tritici is an important fungal pathogen on wheat that originated in the Fertile Crescent. Its closely related sister species Z. pseudotritici and Z. ardabiliae infect wild grasses in the same region. This recently emerged host-pathogen system provides a rare opportunity to investigate the evolutionary processes shaping the genome of an emerging pathogen. Here, we investigate genetic signatures in plant cell wall degrading enzymes (PCWDEs) that are likely affected by or driving coevolution in plant-pathogen systems. We hypothesize four main evolutionary scenarios and combine comparative genomics, transcriptomics and selection analyses to assign the majority of PCWDEs in Z. tritici to one of these scenarios. We found widespread differential transcription among different members of the same gene family, challenging the idea of functional redundancy and suggesting instead that specialized enzymatic activity occurs during different stages of the pathogen life-cycle. We also find that natural selection has significantly affected at least 19 of the 48 identified PCWDEs. The majority of genes showed signatures of purifying selection, typical for the scenario of conserved substrate optimization. However, six genes showed diversifying selection that could be attributed to either host adaptation or host evasion. This study provides a powerful framework to better understand the roles played by different members of multi-gene families and to determine which genes are the most appropriate targets for wet lab experimentation, for example to elucidate enzymatic function during relevant phases of a pathogen’s life-cycle.