Background: Colletotrichum graminicola and C. sublineola cause anthracnose leaf and stalk diseases of maize and sorghum, respectively. In spite of their close evolutionary relationship, the two species are completely host-specific. Host specificity is often attributed to pathogen virulence factors, including specialized secondary metabolites (SSM), and small-secreted protein (SSP) effectors. Genes relevant to these categories were manually annotated in two co-occurring, contemporaneous strains of C. graminicola and C. sublineola. A comparative genomic and phylogenetic analysis was performed to address the evolutionary relationships among these and other divergent gene families in the two strains.

Results: Inoculation of maize with C. sublineola, or of sorghum with C. graminicola, resulted in rapid plant cell death at, or just after, the point of penetration. The two fungal genomes were very similar. More than 50% of the assemblies could be directly aligned, and more than 80% of the gene models were syntenous. More than 90% of the predicted proteins had orthologs in both species. Genes lacking orthologs in the other species (non-conserved genes) included many predicted to encode SSM-associated proteins and SSPs. Other common groups of non-conserved proteins included transporters, transcription factors, and CAZymes. Only 32 SSP genes appeared to be specific to C. graminicola, and 21 to C. sublineola. None of the SSM-associated genes were lineage-specific. Two different strains of C. graminicola, and three strains of C. sublineola, differed in no more than 1% percent of gene sequences from one another.

Conclusions: Efficient non-host recognition of C. sublineola by maize, and of C. graminicola by sorghum, was observed in epidermal cells as a rapid deployment of visible resistance responses and plant cell death. Numerous non-conserved SSP and SSM-associated predicted proteins that could play a role in this non-host recognition were identified. Additional categories of genes that were also highly divergent suggested an important role for co-evolutionary adaptation to specific host environmental factors, in addition to aspects of initial recognition, in host specificity. This work provides a foundation for future functional studies aimed at clarifying the roles of these proteins, and the possibility of manipulating them to improve management of these two economically important diseases.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in BMC Genomics, v. 18, 67, p. 1-24.

© The Author(s). 2017

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

A correction to this article is available as the additional file listed below and online at https://doi.org/10.1186/s12864-018-5073-3.

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Funding Information

This work was partially supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (USDA-CSREES) grant #20093445720125 (LJV); by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch project 0231781 (LJV); and by a University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment Research Activity Award (LJV).

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The information reported in this paper (No. 16-12-109) is part of a project of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director.

The assemblies and annotations generated for the current study are available in the Genbank repository, as BioProjects SAMN06043298 and PRJNA356071. Biological materials from the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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