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Evolutionary analysis of hydrophobin gene family in two wood-degrading basidiomycetes, Phlebia brevispora and Heterobasidion annosum s.l.

Anthony C Mgbeahuruike1*, Andriy Kovalchuk1, Hongxin Chen1, Wimal Ubhayasekera2 and Fred O Asiegbu1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

2 Department of Molecular Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:240  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-240

Published: 4 November 2013



Hydrophobins are small secreted cysteine-rich proteins that play diverse roles during different phases of fungal life cycle. In basidiomycetes, hydrophobin-encoding genes often form large multigene families with up to 40 members. The evolutionary forces driving hydrophobin gene expansion and diversification in basidiomycetes are poorly understood. The functional roles of individual genes within such gene families also remain unclear. The relationship between the hydrophobin gene number, the genome size and the lifestyle of respective fungal species has not yet been thoroughly investigated. Here, we present results of our survey of hydrophobin gene families in two species of wood-degrading basidiomycetes, Phlebia brevispora and Heterobasidion annosum s.l. We have also investigated the regulatory pattern of hydrophobin-encoding genes from H. annosum s.s. during saprotrophic growth on pine wood as well as on culture filtrate from Phlebiopsis gigantea using micro-arrays. These data are supplemented by results of the protein structure modeling for a representative set of hydrophobins.


We have identified hydrophobin genes from the genomes of two wood-degrading species of basidiomycetes, Heterobasidion irregulare, representing one of the microspecies within the aggregate H. annosum s.l., and Phlebia brevispora. Although a high number of hydrophobin-encoding genes were observed in H. irregulare (16 copies), a remarkable expansion of these genes was recorded in P. brevispora (26 copies). A significant expansion of hydrophobin-encoding genes in other analyzed basidiomycetes was also documented (1–40 copies), whereas contraction through gene loss was observed among the analyzed ascomycetes (1–11 copies). Our phylogenetic analysis confirmed the important role of gene duplication events in the evolution of hydrophobins in basidiomycetes. Increased number of hydrophobin-encoding genes appears to have been linked to the species’ ecological strategy, with the non-pathogenic fungi having increased numbers of hydrophobins compared with their pathogenic counterparts. However, there was no significant relationship between the number of hydrophobin-encoding genes and genome size. Furthermore, our results revealed significant differences in the expression levels of the 16 H. annosum s.s. hydrophobin-encoding genes which suggest possible differences in their regulatory patterns.


A considerable expansion of the hydrophobin-encoding genes in basidiomycetes has been observed. The distribution and number of hydrophobin-encoding genes in the analyzed species may be connected to their ecological preferences. Results of our analysis also have shown that H. annosum s.l. hydrophobin-encoding genes may be under positive selection. Our gene expression analysis revealed differential expression of H. annosum s.s. hydrophobin genes under different growth conditions, indicating their possible functional diversification.

Hydrophobins; Gene evolution; Basidiomycetes; Ascomycetes; Pathogen