BMC Genomics 2015 Oct 28;16:881. Epub 2015 Oct 28.
National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, National Science and Technology Development Agency, 113 Thailand Science Park, Phahonyothin Rd., Khlong Neung, Khlong Luang, 12120, Pathum Thani, Thailand.
Background: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is an outstanding insect fungus for its biology to manipulate host ants' behavior and for its extreme host-specificity. Through the sequencing and annotation of Ophiocordyceps polyrhachis-furcata, a species in the O. unilateralis species complex specific to the ant Polyrhachis furcata, comparative analyses on genes involved in pathogenicity and virulence between this fungus and other fungi were undertaken in order to gain insights into its biology and the emergence of host specificity.
Results: O. polyrhachis-furcata possesses various genes implicated in pathogenicity and virulence common with other fungi. Overall, this fungus possesses protein-coding genes similar to those found on other insect fungi with available genomic resources (Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium robertsii (formerly classified as M. anisopliae s.l.), Metarhizium acridum, Cordyceps militaris, Ophiocordyceps sinensis). Comparative analyses in regard of the host ranges of insect fungi showed a tendency toward contractions of various gene families for narrow host-range species, including cuticle-degrading genes (proteases, carbohydrate esterases) and some families of pathogen-host interaction (PHI) genes. For many families of genes, O. polyrhachis-furcata had the least number of genes found; some genes commonly found in other insect fungi are even absent (e.g. Class 1 hydrophobin). However, there are expansions of genes involved in 1) the production of bacterial-like toxins in O. polyrhachis-furcata, compared with other entomopathogenic fungi, and 2) retrotransposable elements.
Conclusions: The gain and loss of gene families helps us understand how fungal pathogenicity in insect hosts evolved. The loss of various genes involved throughout the pathogenesis for O. unilateralis would result in a reduced capacity to exploit larger ranges of hosts and therefore in the different level of host specificity, while the expansions of other gene families suggest an adaptation to particular environments with unexpected strategies like oral toxicity, through the production of bacterial-like toxins, or sophisticated mechanisms underlying pathogenicity through retrotransposons.