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Structural characterization of a putative chitin synthase gene in Phytophthora spp. and analysis of its transcriptional activity during pathogenesis on potato and soybean plants

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Abstract

Although chitin is a major component of the fungal cell wall, in oomycetes (fungal-like organisms), this compound has only been found in very little amounts, mostly in the cell wall of members of the genera Achlya and Saprolegnia. In the oomycetes Phytophthora infestans and P. sojae the presence of chitin has not been demonstrated; however, the gene putatively encoding chitin synthase (CHS), the enzyme that synthesizes chitin, is present in their genomes. The evolutionary significance of the CHS gene in P. infestans and P. sojae genomes is not fully understood and, therefore, further studies are warranted. We have cloned and characterized the putative CHS genes from two Phytophthora spp. and multiple isolates of P. infestans and P. sojae and analyzed their phylogenetic relationships. We also conducted CHS inhibition assays and measured CHS transcriptional activity in Phytophthora spp. during infection of susceptible plants. Results of our investigations suggest that CHS contains all the motifs that are typical in CHS genes of fungal origin and is expressed, at least at the mRNA level, during in vitro and in planta growth. In infected tissues, the highest levels of expression occurred in the first 12 h post inoculation. In addition, results from our inhibition experiments appear to suggest that CHS activity is important for P. infestans normal vegetative growth. Because of the considerable variation in expression during infection when compared to basal expression observed in in vitro cultures of non-sporulating mycelium, we hypothesize that CHS may have a meaningful role in Phytophthora pathogenicity.

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Acknowledgements

This project was funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grant 2011-68004-30104 of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and by Lafayette College. In memory of L. Phil Auerbach, whose help made this research possible.

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Correspondence to Manuel D. Ospina-Giraldo.

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Communicated by M. Kupiec.

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Hinkel, L., Ospina-Giraldo, M.D. Structural characterization of a putative chitin synthase gene in Phytophthora spp. and analysis of its transcriptional activity during pathogenesis on potato and soybean plants. Curr Genet 63, 909–921 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00294-017-0687-6

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