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Genomic signatures of somatic hybrid vigor due to heterokaryosis in the oomycete pathogen, Bremia lactucae.

By Kyle Fletcher, Juliana Gil, Lien D. Bertier, Aubrey Kenefick, Kelsey J. Wood, Lin Zhang, Sebastian Reyes-Chin-Wo, Keri Cavanaugh, Cayla Tsuchida, Joan Wong, Richard Michelmore

Posted 09 Jan 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/516526

Lettuce downy mildew caused by Bremia lactucae is the most important disease of lettuce globally. This oomycete pathogen is highly variable and has rapidly overcome resistance genes and fungicides deployed in attempts to control it. The described high-quality genome assembly of B. lactucae provides the foundation for detailed understanding of this economically important pathogen. The biotrophic nature of B. lactucae coupled with high levels of heterozygosity and the recently expanded repeat content made genome assembly challenging. The combined use of multiple read types, including synthetic long reads, single molecule sequences, and Hi-C, resulted in a high-quality, chromosome-scale, consensus assembly of this diploid organism. Phylogenetic analysis supports polyphyly in the downy mildews consistent with the biotrophic mode of pathogenesis evolving more than once in the Peronosporaceae. Flow cytometry plus resequencing of 30 field isolates as well as sexual offspring and asexual derivatives from multinucleate single sporangia demonstrated a high incidence of heterokaryosis in B. lactucae. Heterokaryons have phenotypic differences and increased fitness compared to homokaryotic derivatives. Consequently, B. lactucae exhibits somatic hybrid vigor and selection should be considered as acting on a population of nuclei within coenocytic mycelia. This provides evolutionary flexibility to the pathogen enabling rapid adaptation to different repertoires of host resistance genes and other challenges. The advantages of asexual persistence of heterokaryons may have been one of the drivers of selection that resulted in the loss of uninucleate zoospores in multiple downy mildews.

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