The presence of a virulence locus discriminates Fusarium oxysporum isolates causing tomato wilt from other isolates

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Fusarium oxysporum is an asexual fungus that inhabits soils throughout the world. As a species, F. oxysporum can infect a very broad range of plants and cause wilt or root rot disease. Single isolates of F. oxysporum, however, usually infect one or a few plant species only. They have therefore been grouped into formae speciales (f.sp.) based on host specificity. Isolates able to cause tomato wilt (f.sp. lycopersici) do not have a single common ancestor within the F. oxysporum species complex. Here we show that, despite their polyphyletic origin, isolates belonging to f.sp. lycopersici all contain an identical genomic region of at least 8 kb that is absent in other formae speciales and non-pathogenic isolates, and comprises the genes SIX1, SIX2 and SHH1. In addition, SIX3, which lies elsewhere on the same chromosome, is also unique for f.sp. lycopersici. SIX1 encodes a virulence factor towards tomato, and the Six1, Six2 and Six3 proteins are secreted in xylem during colonization of tomato plants. We speculate that these genes may be part of a larger, dispensable region of the genome that confers the ability to cause tomato wilt and has spread among clonal lines of F. oxysporum through horizontal gene transfer. Our findings also have practical implications for the detection and identification of f.sp. lycopersici.

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