Scientists at Rothamstead Research discovered the gene that turns fungi into
pathogens. The result is published in PLOS Pathogens journal.
Molecular pathologist Jason Rudd and colleagues were searching for genes of
the wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici, which causes Septoria leaf blotch,
when they observed one specimen without filaments, which are essential for
the fungus in invading its host.
"We were trying to identify loss of virulence through random mutations of
the genome, with one mutation per individual present in over 1000 specimens"
recalls Rudd. "Then noticed the failing hyphae in one of them and identified
the affected gene with a mutation slap bang in the middle of it." The gene
codes for glycosyltransferase, a protein that enables the fungal hyphae to
grow and spread across the surface of a plant. Without this protein, the
hyphae fails and the fungus stalls.
Further analyses showed that the same gene is present in over 800 genomes
from taxonomically diverse fungi, which mostly infect plants and humans.
Thus, the team is now working on characterizing the protein and will develop
a fungicidal spray to shock spores before they turn pathogenic.