Genomic tillage and the harvest of fungal phytopathogens
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Genome sequencing has been carried out on a small selection of major fungal ascomycete pathogens. These studies show that simple models whereby pathogens evolved from phylogenetically related saprobes by the acquisition or modification of a small number of key genes cannot be sustained.The genomes show that pathogens cannot be divided into three clearly delineated classes (biotrophs, hemibiotrophs and necrotrophs) but rather into a complex matrix of categories each with subtly different properties. It is clear that the evolution of pathogenicity is ancient, rapid and ongoing. Fungal pathogens have undergone substantial genomic rearrangements that can be appropriately described as ‘genomic tillage’. Genomic tillage underpins the evolution and expression of large families of genes – known as effectors – that manipulate and exploit metabolic and defence processes of plants so as to allow the proliferation of pathogens.
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