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A triple threat: the Parastagonospora nodorum SnTox267 effector exploits three distinct host genetic factors to cause disease in wheat

By Jonathon Richards, Gayan K. Kariyawasam, Sudeshi Seneviratne, Nathan A. Wyatt, Steven S. Xu, Zhaohui Liu, Justin D. Faris, Timothy Friesen

Posted 26 Feb 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.25.432871 (published DOI: 10.1111/nph.17601)

Parastagonospora nodorum is a fungal pathogen of wheat. As a necrotrophic specialist, it deploys a suite of effector proteins that target dominant host susceptibility genes to elicit programmed cell death (PCD). Nine effector - host susceptibility gene interactions have been reported in this pathosystem, presumed to be governed by unique pathogen effectors. This study presents the characterization of the SnTox267 necrotrophic effector that hijacks two separate host pathways to cause necrosis. An association mapping approach identified SnTox267 and the generation of gene-disrupted mutants and gain-of-function transformants confirmed its role in Snn2-, Snn6-, and Snn7-mediated necrosis. The Snn2 and Snn6 host susceptibility genes were complementary, and together they functioned cooperatively to elicit SnTox267-induced necrosis in the same light-dependent PCD pathway. Additionally, we showed that SnTox267 targeted Snn7, resulting in light-independent necrosis. Therefore, SnTox267 co-opts two distinct host pathways to elicit PCD. SnTox267 sequence comparison among a natural population of 197 North American P. nodorum isolates revealed 20 protein isoforms conferring variable levels of virulence, indicating continuing selection pressure on this gene. Protein isoform prevalence among discrete populations indicated that SnTox267 has likely evolved in response to local selection pressures and has diversified more rapidly in the Upper Midwest. Deletion of SnTox267 resulted in the upregulation of the unrelated effector genes SnToxA, SnTox1, and SnTox3, providing evidence for a complex genetic compensation mechanism. These results illustrate a novel evolutionary path by which a necrotrophic fungal pathogen uses a single proteinaceous effector to hijack two host pathways to induce cell death.

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