seed grant competition

Preventing crop loss by understanding the chromosomes that produce fungus toxins
thomas mitchell, plant pathology Fungi are the number one source of food crop disease worldwide and cost Ohio farmers millions of dollars due to diseased plants and fungicide sprays. There are thousands of fungi that can cause disease, but one of the more prevalent and devastating group of fungi are those in the genus Alternaria sp. This genus alone has over 5,000 different plant host associations, some of which can destroy an entire field or orchard in a single season. Some of these Alternaria species have evolved a unique way to destroy their host tissues — they produce potent toxins that are specific to their host. The genes that code for the production of host-specific toxins in the Alternarias are carried on extra chromosomes known as conditionally dispensable chromosomes (CDC). Thus, the fungus can lose the chromosome but still survive on regular dead organic matter like other fungi; it is now simply unable to infect its normal host plant. CDCs are generally smaller than the rest of the chromosomes the fungus needs for life, and they are necessary for the fungus to be a plant pathogen. This project was designed to answer what is unknown about CDCs — their genome sequence, what the genes on them are, and from where they evolved. The research team first obtained DNA from the entire genome of the Alternaria species that infects tomato, Alternaria arborescens. This fungus was chosen because its CDC is better described than many of the others, making it a useful starting point. The team then used a novel approach to determine which sequences were from the CDC and which were from the rest of the chromosomes. The novel technique proved to be successful. The outcome is a genomic sequence of the CDC, identification of many unique and interesting genes, and the beginnings of an understanding of the evolutionary history of this chromosome. The results suggest that much of the chromosome parts were acquired from other fungi in the environment. This project forms the basis of subsequent research that will analyze additional CDCs in other Alternaria species, which could eventually lead to finding ways to undermine the effectiveness of the fungus toxins.

There are thousands of fungi that can cause disease, but one of the more prevalent and devastating group of fungi are those in the genus Alternaria sp.

thomas mitchell

www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/seeds

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SEEDS: The OARDC Research Enhancement Competitive Grants Program

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