Mimicry in plant-parasitic fungi


  • Editor: Richard Staples

Correspondence: Henry K. Ngugi, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA. Tel.: +1 706 542-1249; fax: +1 706 542-1262; e-mail: hngugi@yahoo.com


Mimicry is the close resemblance of one living organism (the mimic) to another (the model), leading to misidentification by a third organism (the operator). Similar to other organism groups, certain species of plant-parasitic fungi are known to engage in mimetic relationships, thereby increasing their fitness. In some cases, fungal infection can lead to the formation of flower mimics (pseudoflowers) that attract insect pollinators via visual and/or olfactory cues; these insects then either transmit fungal gametes to accomplish outcrossing (e.g. in some heterothallic rust fungi belonging to the genera Puccinia and Uromyces) or vector infectious spores to healthy plants, thereby spreading disease (e.g. in the anther smut fungus Microbotryum violaceum and the mummy berry pathogen Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi). In what is termed aggressive mimicry, some specialized plant-parasitic fungi are able to mimic host structures or host molecules to gain access to resources. An example is M. vaccinii-corymbosi, whose conidia and germ tubes, respectively, mimic host pollen grains and pollen tubes anatomically and physiologically, allowing the pathogen to gain entry into the host's ovary via stigma and style. We review these and other examples of mimicry by plant-parasitic fungi and some of the mechanisms, signals, and evolutionary implications.