Research highlight

Genetics: Fungal genome highlights genetic basis of rice infection

Nature Communications

May 21, 2014

The draft genome sequence of a fungus that causes the disease, false smut, in rice crops is reported this week in Nature Communications. The study identified genes that may play a role in the disease-causing potential of this fungus and provides insights into mechanisms of infection that could potentially be targeted for disease control.

Rice false smut is a grain disease caused by the fungus, Ustilaginoidea virens (Cooke) Takah. The disease affects the majority of rice growing areas, including approximately one third of the rice cultivation regions in China, and has been responsible for severe economic losses worldwide. To advance our understanding of this disease, Wenxian Sun and colleagues sequenced the draft genome of U. virens, carried out low-coverage sequencing on four additional U. virens strains, and performed a comparative analysis with eleven other fungal species.

The team identified genes that indicate that U. virens absorbs nutrients through the stamen filaments of the host plant which disadvantages, but does not kill, the plant itself. They also identified several genes that are responsible for toxin production that likely contributes to the pathogenicity of this fungal strain.

These findings provide insight into the evolution and host adaptations of U. virens, as well as pathogenic fungi in general and may provide a platform for effective disease control.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms4849

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