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Concept: Phytophthora


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


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


Sudden oak death, caused by Phytophthora ramorum, has killed millions of oak and tanoak in California since its first detection in 1995. Despite some localized small-scale management, there has been no large-scale attempt to slow the spread of the pathogen in California. Here we use a stochastic spatially explicit model parameterized using data on the spread of P. ramorum to investigate whether and how the epidemic can be controlled. We find that slowing the spread of P. ramorum is now not possible, and has been impossible for a number of years. However, despite extensive cryptic (i.e., presymptomatic) infection and frequent long-range transmission, effective exclusion of the pathogen from large parts of the state could, in principle, have been possible were it to have been started by 2002. This is the approximate date by which sufficient knowledge of P. ramorum epidemiology had accumulated for large-scale management to be realistic. The necessary expenditure would have been very large, but could have been greatly reduced by optimizing the radius within which infected sites are treated and careful selection of sites to treat. In particular, we find that a dynamic strategy treating sites on the epidemic wave front leads to optimal performance. We also find that “front loading” the budget, that is, treating very heavily at the start of the management program, would greatly improve control. Our work introduces a framework for quantifying the likelihood of success and risks of failure of management that can be applied to invading pests and pathogens threatening forests worldwide.

Concepts: Oomycete, Phytophthora, Sudden oak death, Curry County, Oregon


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


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


Phytophthora infestans is a destructive plant pathogen best known for causing the disease that triggered the Irish potato famine and remains the most costly potato pathogen to manage worldwide. Identification of P. infestan’s elusive center of origin is critical to understanding the mechanisms of repeated global emergence of this pathogen. There are two competing theories, placing the origin in either South America or in central Mexico, both of which are centers of diversity of Solanum host plants. To test these competing hypotheses, we conducted detailed phylogeographic and approximate Bayesian computation analyses, which are suitable approaches to unraveling complex demographic histories. Our analyses used microsatellite markers and sequences of four nuclear genes sampled from populations in the Andes, Mexico, and elsewhere. To infer the ancestral state, we included the closest known relatives Phytophthora phaseoli, Phytophthora mirabilis, and Phytophthora ipomoeae, as well as the interspecific hybrid Phytophthora andina. We did not find support for an Andean origin of P. infestans; rather, the sequence data suggest a Mexican origin. Our findings support the hypothesis that populations found in the Andes are descendants of the Mexican populations and reconcile previous findings of ancestral variation in the Andes. Although centers of origin are well documented as centers of evolution and diversity for numerous crop plants, the number of plant pathogens with a known geographic origin are limited. This work has important implications for our understanding of the coevolution of hosts and pathogens, as well as the harnessing of plant disease resistance to manage late blight.

Concepts: Scientific method, Potato, Andes, Plant pathogens and diseases, Phytophthora infestans, Great Famine, Phytophthora, Plant pathology


The oomycete Phytophthora infestans causes late blight on potato and tomato. Despite extensive research, the P. infestans-host interaction is still poorly understood. To find new ways to further unravel this interaction we established a new infection system using MsK8 tomato cells. These cells grow in suspension and can be maintained as a stable cell line that is representative for tomato.

Concepts: Cell biology, Cell culture, Potato, Plant pathogens and diseases, Water moulds, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora


Plants are exposed to diverse pathogens and pests, yet most plants are resistant to most plant pathogens. Non-host resistance describes the ability of all members of a plant species to successfully prevent colonization by any given member of a pathogen species. White blister rust caused by Albugo species can overcome non-host resistance and enable secondary infection and reproduction of usually non-virulent pathogens, including the potato late blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans on Arabidopsis thaliana. However, the molecular basis of host defense suppression in this complex plant-microbe interaction is unclear. Here, we investigate specific defense mechanisms in Arabidopsis that are suppressed by Albugo infection.

Concepts: Species, Fungus, Potato, Chlorophyll, Plant pathogens and diseases, Water moulds, Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora