Although somatic hybridization (SH) has been proposed as a means of accelerating rust pathogen virulence evolution in the absence of sexual recombination, previous studies are limited to the laboratory and none have revealed how this process happens. Using long-read sequencing, we generated dikaryotic phased genomes and annotations for three Australian field-collected isolates of the wheat leaf rust pathogen (Puccinia triticina; Pt), including a putative asexual hybrid (Pt64) and two putative parental isolates (Pt104 and Pt53; 132-141 Mb,155-176 contigs, N50 of 1.9-2.1 Mb). The genetic dissection based on the high-quality phased genomes including whole-genome alignments, phylogenetic and syntenic analyses along with short-read sequencing of 27 additional Pt isolates convergently demonstrated that Pt64, which rendered several commercial hybrid wheat cultivars susceptible to leaf rust, arose from SH between isolates within the Pt53 and Pt104 lineages. Parentage analysis demonstrated the role of mitotic crossover in the derivation of both nuclei of Pt64. Within HD mating type genes, the distinct specificity regions in Pt64 and the distinct phylogenetic pattern of the remaining admixed isolates suggested high genetic variation in specificity-related regions on the b locus intrinsically associated with the SH. This study not only provided a fundamental platform for investigating genomic variation underlying virulence evolution in one of the most devastating wheat pathogens, but also offered an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms of naturally occurring SH. This asexual mechanism can be broadly exploited by any dikaryotic pathogen to accelerate virulence evolution, and understanding this process is both urgent and crucial for sustainable pathogen control.
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