Repeated gain and loss of a single gene modulates the evolution of vascular plant pathogen lifestyles

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Science Advances  13 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 46, eabc4516
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc4516


Vascular plant pathogens travel long distances through host veins, leading to life-threatening, systemic infections. In contrast, nonvascular pathogens remain restricted to infection sites, triggering localized symptom development. The contrasting features of vascular and nonvascular diseases suggest distinct etiologies, but the basis for each remains unclear. Here, we show that the hydrolase CbsA acts as a phenotypic switch between vascular and nonvascular plant pathogenesis. cbsA was enriched in genomes of vascular phytopathogenic bacteria in the family Xanthomonadaceae and absent in most nonvascular species. CbsA expression allowed nonvascular Xanthomonas to cause vascular blight, while cbsA mutagenesis resulted in reduction of vascular or enhanced nonvascular symptom development. Phylogenetic hypothesis testing further revealed that cbsA was lost in multiple nonvascular lineages and more recently gained by some vascular subgroups, suggesting that vascular pathogenesis is ancestral. Our results overall demonstrate how the gain and loss of single loci can facilitate the evolution of complex ecological traits.

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