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Potato blight pathogenicity explained by genome plasticity

A team of researchers from Wageningen University report in this month's issue of Genome Research that they have identified a unique genetic fingerprint in the pathogen responsible for potato blight. Some strains of the pathogen possess multiple copies of a specific gene, while other strains possess only a single copy. Certain potato plants do not recognize strains of the pathogen with only the single gene copy, making them susceptible to infection. This is the first report of gene amplification in a non-bacterial organism that is associated with pathogenicity, and it provides insight into how plant pathogens tailor their genomes to adapt to their environments.

The potato late blight pathogen, known to scientists as Phytophthora infestans, is a fungus-like organism that was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and continues to cause devastating agricultural losses worldwide today. Infected plants are characterized by dark lesions on the stems, leaves, and tubers; damage to the tuber surface allows other fungi and bacteria to enter and destroy the core, often resulting in a foul odor. P. infestans is related to approximately 65 other pathogens that cause similar damage to commercial crops as well as natural vegetation.

In the potato-Phytophthora system, the host-pathogen response has evolved in a highly specific way: resistance (R) genes from wild species, which are introduced into cultivated potato by breeding, are matched by avirulence (Avr) genes in Phytophthora. While many such gene matches are predicted, only a few have been confirmed by molecular and functional studies. Avr genes are thought to undergo rapid changes to evade detection by plants that possess R genes, which means that many strains of Phytophthora and potato are likely to be evolving at the present time.

"P. infestans is notorious for its ability to change in response to R g
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Source:Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory


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