, Volume 47, Issue 8, pp 804-811

Role of toxins in evolution and ecology of plant pathogenic fungi

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Many fungal pathogens of plants adapt readily to changes in agriculture. Among the most revealing is a fungal group whose species produce host-selective toxins as key determinants of disease. Several lines of evidence support the hypothesis that these fungi evolved from opportunistic, low-grade pathogens by gaining new genetic information leading to toxin production; in some species, toxin production is known to be under single gene control. as a result of this evolution, these fungi became virulent and host-specialized. The best-known model cases belong to the generaCochliobolus andAlternaria; there are suggestions of evolutionary lines among these genera, with species that range from saprophytes to opportunists to specialized pathogens. Host specialization can lead to genetic isolation, a first step in speciation. Ability to produce host-selective toxin has allowed these fungi to exploit the monocultures and genetic uniformity of modern agriculture. Destructive epidemics have been the result.