Identification of a gene cluster for the synthesis of the plant hormone abscisic acid in the plant pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans Academic Article uri icon


  • Leptosphaeria maculans is an ascomycetous fungus that causes the disease blackleg on Brassica napus (canola). In spite of the importance of the disease worldwide, the mechanisms of disease development are poorly understood. Secondary metabolites, which are one of the common virulence factors of pathogenic fungi, have not been extensively explored from this fungus. An RNA-seq dataset was examined to find genes responsible for secondary metabolite synthesis by this fungus during infection. One polyketide synthase gene, pks5, was found to be upregulated during the early biotrophic stage of development. In addition to pks5, six other genes adjacent to the pks5 gene, including one encoding a Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor abscisic acid-like 7 gene (abl7), were also upregulated during that time. A striking feature of the L. maculans genome is that it contains large AT-rich regions that are gene-poor and large GC-rich regions that are gene rich. This set of seven co-regulated genes is embedded within and separated by two such AT-rich regions. Three of the genes in the cluster have similarities to those known to be involved in the synthesis of abscisic acid (ABA) in other fungi. When L. maculans is grown in axenic culture the genes in this cluster are not expressed and ABA is not produced. Overexpressing abl7, encoding the putative transcription factor, resulted in the transcription of the six adjacent genes in axenic culture and in the production of ABA, as detected by liquid chromatography quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry analysis. Mutation of two genes of the cluster using CRISPR/Cas9 did not affect pathogenicity on canola cotyledons. The characterization of the ABA gene cluster has led to the discovery of the co-regulation of genes within an AT-rich region by a transcription factor, and the first report of the plant hormone abscisic acid being produced by L. maculans.

publication date

  • 2019