Biotech Updates

Horizontal Gene Transfer in Fungi

March 19, 2010

Fungi have the potential for horizontal gene transfer, an international team of researchers report in a paper published this week by the journal Nature. Horizontal gene transfer through chromosome and plasmids allows bacteria to rapidly change their genetic make-up, which is one reason that antibiotic resistance can often develop. This capability was believed to be possible, but rare, in fungi.

The team, led by researchers from The Broad Institute in Massachusetts, the University of Amsterdam, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service at the University of Minnesota, compared the genomes Fusarium graminearum, Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici to understand the molecular underpinnings of pathogenicity in one Fusarium species, which are among the most important plant pathogenic fungi. Some Fusarium species can also infect humans. The researchers found that complete chromosomes were being transferred between different fungal strains, along with the ability to cause infection.

"These findings put the evolution of fungal pathogenicity into a new perspective," wrote the researchers in the paper. For example, the findings can help researchers to better understand the types of fungal strains that are most apt to develop resistance to fungicides, and help crop scientists develop approaches to minimize that problem.  

The complete paper is available to subscribers at Non-subscribers can read the abstract at the same link.