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Evolution of host specificity in fungal plant pathogens
The fungus, Zymoseptoria tritici, is a significant agricultural pathogen that obligatorily infects wheat. In contrast, three of its close relatives Z. pseudotritici, Z. ardabiliae, and Z. brevis infect wild grass species, but not wheat. The genetic and/or molecular factors that govern this variation in host range are currently unknown. To help shed light on this topic, we propose a project that will use a combination of comparative genomics and molecular biology to dissect the evolution of these specific host-pathogen interactions. We hypothesize that variation in virulence gene complement and expression will underlie host range specificity. This variation will be determined using the genomic and transcriptomic resources available in the Stukenbrock Lab for each species. Computational predictions will be supported by downstream molecular analyses aimed at assessing the impact each candidate gene has on pathogenicity, and identifying the targets of their encoding proteins in their susceptible host.