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Open Access Research article

Asexual reproduction induces a rapid and permanent loss of sexual reproduction capacity in the rice fungal pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae: results of in vitro experimental evolution assays

Dounia Saleh12, Joëlle Milazzo2, Henri Adreit2, Didier Tharreau2 and Elisabeth Fournier1*

Author Affiliations

1 INRA, UMR BGPI, TA A54/K, 34398 Montpellier, France

2 CIRAD, UMR BGPI, TA A54/K, 34398 Montpellier, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-42

Published: 29 March 2012

Abstract

Background

Sexual reproduction is common in eukaryotic microorganisms, with few species reproducing exclusively asexually. However, in some organisms, such as fungi, asexual reproduction alternates with episodic sexual reproduction events. Fungi are thus appropriate organisms for studies of the reasons for the selection of sexuality or clonality and of the mechanisms underlying this selection. Magnaporthe oryzae, an Ascomycete causing blast disease on rice, reproduces mostly asexually in natura. Sexual reproduction is possible in vitro and requires (i) two strains of opposite mating types including (ii) at least one female-fertile strain (i.e. a strain able to produce perithecia, the female organs in which meiosis occurs). Female-fertile strains are found only in limited areas of Asia, in which evidence for contemporary recombination has recently been obtained. We induced the forced evolution of four Chinese female-fertile strains in vitro by the weekly transfer of asexual spores (conidia) between Petri dishes. We aimed to determine whether female fertility was rapidly lost in the absence of sexual reproduction and whether this loss was controlled genetically or epigenetically.

Results

All the strains became female-sterile after 10 to 19 rounds of selection under asexual conditions. As no single-spore isolation was carried out, the observed decrease in the production of perithecia reflected the emergence and the invasion of female-sterile mutants. The female-sterile phenotype segregated in the offspring of crosses between female-sterile evolved strains and female-fertile wild-type strains. This segregation was maintained in the second generation in backcrosses. Female-sterile evolved strains were subjected to several stresses, but none induced the restoration of female fertility. This loss of fertility was therefore probably due to genetic rather than epigenetic mechanisms. In competition experiments, female-sterile mutants produced similar numbers of viable conidia to wild-type strains, but released them more efficiently. This advantage may account for the invasion of our populations by female-sterile mutants.

Conclusions

We show for the first time that, in the absence of sexual reproduction, female-sterile mutants of M. oryzae rice strains can arise and increase in abundance in asexual generations. This change in phenotype was frequent and probably caused by mutation. These results suggest that female fertility may have been lost rapidly during the dispersion of the fungus from Asia to the rest of the world.