Plant pathogens often exhibit variation in virulence, the ability to cause disease on host plants with specific resistance, evident from the diversity of races observed within pathogen species. The evolution of races in asexual fungal pathogens has been hypothesized to occur in a stepwise fashion, in which mutations to virulence accumulate sequentially in clonal lineages, resulting in races capable of overcoming multiple host plant resistance genes or multiple resistant cultivars. In this study, we demonstrate a simple stepwise pattern of race evolution in Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. ciceris, the fungus that causes Fusarium wilt of chickpeas. The inferred intraspecific phylogeny of races in this fungus, based on DNA fingerprinting with repetitive sequences, shows that each of the eight races forms a monophyletic lineage. By mapping virulence to each differential cultivar (used for defining races) onto the inferred phylogeny, we show that virulence has been acquired in a simple stepwise pattern, with few parallel gains or losses. Such a clear pattern of stepwise evolution of races, to our knowledge, has not been demonstrated previously for other pathogens based on analyses of field populations. We speculate that in other systems the stepwise pattern is obscured by parallel gains or losses of virulence caused by higher mutation rates and selection by widespread deployment of resistant cultivars. Although chickpea cultivars resistant to Fusarium wilt are available, their deployment has not been extensive and the stepwise acquisition of virulence is still clearly evident.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Plant Science