Identifying fixed DNA sequences across multiple strains may offer clues to disease control

  • 07
  • FEB
  • 2023

A new study comparing genomes across 18 strains of the Septoria leaf blotch fungus Zymoseptoria tritici has revealed a core set of genes that may offer clues for improved control of this important disease.

These “core biology” gene sets are present and functional in all strains of the fungus, unlike other “flexible biology” sections which appear to mutate and evolve rapidly.

The core set comprised 9807 sequences which were present more-or-less unchanged in all samples.  That left a large accessory genome, consisting of 45% of the total genes where the sequences could be highly variable.

The wheat-pathogenic fungus Zymoseptoria is one of the most rapidly evolving threats to global food security. Like many crop diseases, it can quickly adapt making it resistant to pesticides.  Severe epidemics of the disease have decreased wheat yields by up to 50%.

The core set coded for proteins required for essential functions including virulence. Both core and accessory genomes encoded many small proteins that likely interact with plant immunity. 

However, the researchers were unable to identify the genes that induced the characteristic brown patches that are typical of the disease.

“We also identified a non-pathogenic strain lacking 5 of the core genes. Just by restoring a single carefully chosen gene full virulence was regained.” said Rothamsted’s Dr Jason Rudd who led the study.

“This hints at the huge potential for using genomic techniques to control crop diseases that can evolve rapidly, making them quickly resistant to herbicides or other treatments”

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Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
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About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.