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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • coevolution;
  • Dianthus;
  • genomics;
  • Phylogenetic analysis by maximum likelihood;
  • pathogenic fungi;
  • Silene;
  • Ustilago

Abstract

Numerous genes in diverse organisms have been shown to be under positive selection, especially genes involved in reproduction, adaptation to contrasting environments, hybrid inviability, and host-pathogen interactions. Looking for genes under positive selection in pathogens has been a priority in efforts to investigate coevolution dynamics and to develop vaccines or drugs. To elucidate the functions involved in host specialization, here we aimed at identifying candidate sequences that could have evolved under positive selection among closely related pathogens specialized on different hosts. For this goal, we sequenced c. 17 000–32 000 ESTs from each of four Microbotryum species, which are fungal pathogens responsible for anther smut disease on host plants in the Caryophyllaceae. Forty-two of the 372 predicted orthologous genes showed significant signal of positive selection, which represents a good number of candidate genes for further investigation. Sequencing 16 of these genes in 9 additional Microbotryum species confirmed that they have indeed been rapidly evolving in the pathogen species specialized on different hosts. The genes showing significant signals of positive selection were putatively involved in nutrient uptake from the host, secondary metabolite synthesis and secretion, respiration under stressful conditions and stress response, hyphal growth and differentiation, and regulation of expression by other genes. Many of these genes had transmembrane domains and may therefore also be involved in pathogen recognition by the host. Our approach thus revealed fruitful and should be feasible for many non-model organisms for which candidate genes for diversifying selection are needed.