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Huge virulence gene superfamily responsible for devastating plant diseases
Date:4/2/2008

Blacksburg, Va. A research team from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech has identified an enormous superfamily of pathogen genes involved in the infection of plants. The Avh superfamily comprises genes found in the plant pathogens Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora sojae. The pathogen genes produce effector proteins that manipulate how plant cells work in such a way as to make the plant hosts more susceptible to infection. The results suggest that a single gene from a common ancestor of the both pathogen species has spawned hundreds of very different, fast-evolving genes that encode for these highly damaging effector proteins.

P. sojae causes severe devastation in soybean crops and results in $12 million in annual losses for commercial farmers in the United States. P. ramorum, which causes sudden oak death, has attacked and killed tens of thousands of oak trees in California and Oregon. Both pathogens belong to the oomycete group of organisms that also includes the potato late blight pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine. The scientists probed the recently published genome sequences of both organisms using bioinformatic tools that can look for specific amino acid sequences or motifs. Advanced searches of the genome sequences (BLAST and Hidden Markov Model) revealed that the P. sojae and P. ramorum genomes encode large numbers of effector proteins (374 from P. ramorum and 396 from P. sojae) that likely facilitate the infection of their host plants. Given that there are more than 80 species of Phytophthora pathogens, these findings imply that there are more than 30 000 members of this superfamily within the genus Phytophthora.

Proteins arising from the Avh superfamily have very different amino acid sequences but share two common motifs at one end of the protein (N-terminus). The readily identified RXLR and dEER motifs (single letter code for amino acids) are required for entry of the proteins into plant host c
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Contact: Barry Whyte
whyte@vbi.vt.edu
540-231-1767
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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