Constraints on the evolution of azole resistance in plant pathogenic fungi



The durability of azole fungicides in controlling agriculturally important pathogenic fungi is unique amongst modern single site fungicides. Today, azoles are still relied on to control pathogens of many crops including cereals, fruits and vegetables, canola and soybeans. Significantly, this widespread use continues despite many reports of azole-resistant fungal strains. In this review, recent reports of azole resistance and the mechanisms associated with resistant phenotypes are discussed. The example of the complex evolution of the azole target sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51) enzyme in modern European populations of the wheat pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola is used to describe the quantitative and epistatic effects on fungicide sensitivity and enzyme function of target site mutations, and to explore the hypothesis that constraints on CYP51 evolution have ensured the longevity of azoles. In addition, the threats posed by alternative resistance mechanisms causing cross-resistance to all azoles or even unrelated fungicides are discussed, and postulations are made on how using new genomic technologies to gain a greater understanding of azole resistance evolution should enhance the ability to control azole-resistant strains of plant pathogenic fungi in the future.