Genomic rearrangements generate hypervariable mini-chromosomes in host-specific isolates of the blast fungus.

Author summary

The genomes of plant pathogens often exhibit an architecture that facilitates high rates of dynamic rearrangements and genetic diversification in virulence associated regions. These regions, which tend to be gene sparse and repeat rich, are thought to serve as a cradle for adaptive evolution. Supernumerary chromosomes, i.e. chromosomes that are only present in some but not all individuals of a species, are a special type of structural variation that have been observed in plants, animals, and fungi. Here we identified and studied supernumerary mini-chromosomes in the blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, a pathogen that causes some of the most destructive plant diseases. We found that rice, foxtail millet and goosegrass isolates of this pathogen contain mini-chromosomes with distinct sequence composition. All mini-chromosomes are rich in repetitive genetic elements and have lower gene densities than core-chromosomes. Further, we identified virulence-related genes on the mini-chromosome of the rice isolate. We observed large-scale genomic rearrangements around these loci, indicative of a role of mini-chromosomes in facilitating genome dynamics. Taken together, our results indicate that mini-chromosomes contribute to genome rearrangements and possibly adaptive evolution of the blast fungus.