Cochliobolus fungi are cereal grain pathogens in the Dothideomycetes class, and many species are known to infect crops such as corn, rice, barley, wheat and oats, causing severe losses at harvest time and to biomass feedstocks for biofuels.
In a study published January 24, 2013 in Plos Genetics, one in a series of publications concerning Dothideomycete fungi, DOE Joint Genome Institute collaborators Shaobin Zhong and Gillian Turgeon led a comparative genomic analysis of five Cochliobolus fungi–
including several strains of two species–and one closely related fungal species to pinpoint structural elements and genes associated with pathogenicity affecting particular cereal hosts. The team used genomes sequenced at the DOE JGI, several under the aegis of the Community Sequencing Program. With this information, the team hopes to develop more tools to counter the impact of these fungal pathogens on crops.
“Species of Cochliobolus spp. clearly have proven their ability to cause extraordinary crop losses,” the team wrote. “As we begin to understand the intimidating capacity for diverse production and evolution of new [host specific toxins], we must also look for ways to apply this knowledge to our disease response strategies.”
Among the findings reported by the team is a timeline of genome diversity, based on observations of genetic conservation. Another result identifies some genes that may encode a host specific toxin within fungal species or strain, making the fungus pathogenic to a crop.