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Concept: Phytophthora infestans


Pest and pathogen losses jeopardise global food security and ever since the 19(th) century Irish famine, potato late blight has exemplified this threat. The causal oomycete pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, undergoes major population shifts in agricultural systems via the successive emergence and migration of asexual lineages. The phenotypic and genotypic bases of these selective sweeps are largely unknown but management strategies need to adapt to reflect the changing pathogen population. Here, we used molecular markers to document the emergence of a lineage, termed 13_A2, in the European P. infestans population, and its rapid displacement of other lineages to exceed 75% of the pathogen population across Great Britain in less than three years. We show that isolates of the 13_A2 lineage are among the most aggressive on cultivated potatoes, outcompete other aggressive lineages in the field, and overcome previously effective forms of plant host resistance. Genome analyses of a 13_A2 isolate revealed extensive genetic and expression polymorphisms particularly in effector genes. Copy number variations, gene gains and losses, amino-acid replacements and changes in expression patterns of disease effector genes within the 13_A2 isolate likely contribute to enhanced virulence and aggressiveness to drive this population displacement. Importantly, 13_A2 isolates carry intact and in planta induced Avrblb1, Avrblb2 and Avrvnt1 effector genes that trigger resistance in potato lines carrying the corresponding R immune receptor genes Rpi-blb1, Rpi-blb2, and Rpi-vnt1.1. These findings point towards a strategy for deploying genetic resistance to mitigate the impact of the 13_A2 lineage and illustrate how pathogen population monitoring, combined with genome analysis, informs the management of devastating disease epidemics.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Potato, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Great Famine, Potatoes, Phytophthora


Phytopathogenic oomycetes, such as Phytophthora infestans, secrete an arsenal of effector proteins that modulate plant innate immunity to enable infection. We describe CRN8, a host-translocated effector of P. infestans that has kinase activity in planta. CRN8 is a modular protein of the CRN effector family. The C-terminus of CRN8 localizes to the host nucleus and triggers cell death when the protein is expressed in planta. Cell death induction by CRN8 is dependent on its localization to the plant nucleus, which requires a functional nuclear localization signal (NLS). The C-terminal sequence of CRN8 has similarity to a serine/threonine RD kinase domain. We demonstrated that CRN8 is a functional RD kinase and that its auto-phosphorylation is dependent on an intact catalytic site. Co-immunoprecipitation experiments revealed that CRN8 forms a dimer or multimer. Heterologous expression of CRN8 in planta resulted in enhanced virulence by P. infestans. In contrast, in planta expression of the dominant-negative CRN8(R469A;D470A) resulted in reduced P. infestans infection, further implicating CRN8 in virulence. Overall, our results indicate that similar to animal parasites, plant pathogens also translocate biochemically active kinase effectors inside host cells.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Cell, Bacteria, Enzyme, Cell biology, Cell wall, Phytophthora infestans


Phytophthora infestans, the cause of potato late blight, is infamous for having triggered the Irish Great Famine in the 1840s. Until the late 1970s, P. infestans diversity outside of its Mexican center of origin was low, and one scenario held that a single strain, US-1, had dominated the global population for 150 years; this was later challenged based on DNA analysis of historical herbarium specimens. We have compared the genomes of 11 herbarium and 15 modern strains. We conclude that the 19th century epidemic was caused by a unique genotype, HERB-1, that persisted for over 50 years. HERB-1 is distinct from all examined modern strains, but it is a close relative of US-1, which replaced it outside of Mexico in the 20th century. We propose that HERB-1 and US-1 emerged from a metapopulation that was established in the early 1800s outside of the species' center of diversity. DOI:

Concepts: DNA, Potato, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Overpopulation, Great Famine, Potatoes, Phytophthora


Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary, the causal agent of potato late blight, was responsible for the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. Initial disease outbreaks occurred in the US in 1843, two years prior to European outbreaks. We examined the evolutionary relationships and source of the 19th-century outbreaks using herbarium specimens of P. infestans from historic (1846-1970) and more recent isolates (1992-2014) of the pathogen. The same unique SSR multilocus genotype, named here as FAM-1, caused widespread outbreaks in both US and Europe. The FAM-1 lineage shared allelic diversity and grouped with the oldest specimens collected in Colombia and Central America. The FAM-1 lineage of P. infestans formed a genetic group that was distinct from more recent aggressive lineages found in the US. The US-1 lineage formed a second, mid-20th century group. Recent modern US lineages and the oldest Mexican lineages formed a genetic group with recent Mexican lineages, suggesting a Mexican origin of recent US lineages. A survey of mitochondrial haplotypes in a larger set of global herbarium specimens documented the more frequent occurrence of the HERB-1 (type Ia) mitochondrial haplotype in archival collections from 1866-75 and 1906-1915 and the rise of the Ib mitochondrial lineage (US-1) between 1946-1955. The FAM-1 SSR lineage survived for almost 100 years in the US, was geographically widespread, and was displaced first in the mid-20th century by the US-1 lineage and then by distinct new aggressive lineages that migrated from Mexico.

Concepts: Evolution, Potato, Plant pathogens and diseases, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Great Famine, Potatoes, Phytophthora


As the oomycete pathogen causing potato late blight disease, Phytophthora infestans triggered the famous 19(th)-century Irish potato famine and remains the leading cause of global commercial potato crop destruction. But the geographic origin of the genotype that caused this devastating initial outbreak remains disputed, as does the New World center of origin of the species itself. Both Mexico and South America have been proposed, generating considerable controversy. Here, we readdress the pathogen’s origins using a genomic dataset encompassing 71 globally-sourced modern and historical samples of P. infestans and the hybrid species P. andina, a close relative known only from the Andean highlands. Previous studies have suggested that the nuclear DNA lineage behind the initial outbreaks in Europe in 1845 is now extinct. Analysis of P. andina’s phased haplotypes recovered eight haploid genome sequences, four of which represent a previously unknown basal lineage of P. infestans closely related to the famine-era lineage. Our analyses further reveal that clonal lineages of both P. andina and historical P. infestans diverged earlier than modern Mexican lineages, casting doubt on recent claims of a Mexican center of origin. Finally, we use haplotype phasing to demonstrate that basal branches of the clade comprising Mexican samples are occupied by clonal isolates collected from wild Solanum hosts, suggesting that modern Mexican P. infestans diversified on S. tuberosum after a host jump from a wild species and that the origins of P. infestans are more complex than was previously thought.

Concepts: Gene, Potato, Andes, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Great Famine, Potatoes, Phytophthora


Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete that causes severe damage to potato, and is well known for its ability to evolve rapidly in order to overcome resistant potato varieties. An RNA silencing strategy was evaluated here to clarify if small interfering RNA homologous to selected genes in P. infestans could be targeted from the plant host to reduce the magnitude of the infection. As a proof-of-concept, a hairpin RNA (hp-RNA) construct using the GFP marker gene was designed and introduced in potato. At 72 hpi, a 55-fold reduction of the signal intensity of a corresponding GFP expressing P. infestans strain on leaf samples of transgenic plants, compared with wild-type potato, was detected. This suggests that an RNA interference construct in the potato host could be processed and target a transcript of the pathogen. Three genes important in the infection process of P. infestans, PiGPB1, PiCESA2, and PiPEC, together with PiGAPDH taking part in basic cell maintenance were subsequently tested using an analogous transgenic strategy. Out of these gene candidates, the hp-PiGPB1 targeting the G protein β-subunit (PiGPB1) important for pathogenicity resulted in most restricted disease progress. Further, Illumina sequencing of inoculated transgenic potato leaves revealed sRNAs of 24/25 nt size homologous to the PiGPB1 gene in the transgenic plants indicating post-transcriptional silencing of the target gene. The work demonstrates that a host-induced gene-silencing approach is functional against P. infestans but is highly dependent on target gene for a successful outcome. This finding broadens the arsenal of control strategies to this important plant disease.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, RNA, RNA interference, Potato, Phytophthora infestans


Global yields of potato and tomato crops have fallen owing to potato late blight disease, which is caused by Phytophthora infestans. Although most commercial potato varieties are susceptible to blight, many wild potato relatives show variation for resistance and are therefore a potential source of Resistance to P. infestans (Rpi) genes. Resistance breeding has exploited Rpi genes from closely related tuber-bearing potato relatives, but is laborious and slow. Here we report that the wild, diploid non-tuber-bearing Solanum americanum harbors multiple Rpi genes. We combine resistance ® gene sequence capture (RenSeq) with single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing (SMRT RenSeq) to clone Rpi-amr3i. This technology should enable de novo assembly of complete nucleotide-binding, leucine-rich repeat receptor (NLR) genes, their regulatory elements and complex multi-NLR loci from uncharacterized germplasm. SMRT RenSeq can be applied to rapidly clone multiple R genes for engineering pathogen-resistant crops.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Solanum, Potato, Cloning, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora


The population structure of the Phytophthora infestans populations that caused the recent 2013-14 late blight epidemic in eastern India (EI) and northeastern India (NEI) was examined. The data provide new baseline information for populations of P. infestans in India. A migrant European 13_A2 genotype was responsible for the 2013-14 epidemic, replacing the existing populations. Mutations have generated substantial sub-clonal variation with 24 multi-locus genotypes (MLGs) found, of which 19 were unique variants not yet reported elsewhere globally. Samples from West Bengal were the most diverse and grouped alongside MLGs found in Europe, the UK and from neighbouring Bangladesh but were not linked directly to most samples from south India. The pathogen population was broadly more aggressive on potato than on tomato and resistant to the fungicide metalaxyl. Pathogen population diversity was higher in regions around the international borders with Bangladesh and Nepal. Overall, the multiple shared MLGs suggested genetic contributions from UK and Europe in addition to a sub-structure based on the geographical location within India. Our data indicate the need for improved phytosanitary procedures and continuous surveillance to prevent the further introduction of aggressive lineages of P. infestans into the country.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, United Kingdom, India, Bengal, Phytophthora infestans, Fungicide, Metalaxyl


Plants use autophagy to safeguard against infectious diseases. However, how plant pathogens interfere with autophagy related processes is unknown. Here we show that PexRD54, an effector from the Irish potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans, binds host autophagy protein ATG8CL to stimulate autophagosome formation. PexRD54 depletes the autophagy cargo receptor Joka2 out of ATG8CL complexes and interferes with Joka2’s positive effect on pathogen defense. Thus a plant pathogen effector has evolved to antagonize a host autophagy cargo receptor in order to counteract host defenses.

Concepts: Immune system, Infectious disease, Microbiology, Starch, Potato, Plant pathogens and diseases, Phytophthora infestans, Great Famine


Phytophthora infestans, the causal agent of late blight, is a major threat to commercial potato production worldwide. Significant costs are required for crop protection to secure yield. Many dominant genes for resistance (R-genes) to potato late blight have been identified, and some of these R-genes have been applied in potato breeding. However, the P. infestans population rapidly accumulates new virulent strains that render R-genes ineffective. Here we introduce a new class of resistance which is based on the loss-of-function of a susceptibility gene (S-gene) encoding a product exploited by pathogens during infection and colonization. Impaired S-genes primarily result in recessive resistance traits in contrast to recognition-based resistance that is governed by dominant R-genes. In Arabidopsis thaliana, many S-genes have been detected in screens of mutant populations. In the present study, we selected 11 A. thaliana S-genes and silenced orthologous genes in the potato cultivar Desiree, which is highly susceptible to late blight. The silencing of five genes resulted in complete resistance to the P. infestans isolate Pic99189, and the silencing of a sixth S-gene resulted in reduced susceptibility. The application of S-genes to potato breeding for resistance to late blight is further discussed.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, Arabidopsis thaliana, Arabidopsis, Potato, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora