Pathogenic fungi can lose virulence after protracted periods of culture, but little is known of the underlying mechanisms. Here, we present the first analysis of DNA methylation flux at a single-base resolution for the plant pathogen B. cinerea and identify differentially methylated genes/genomic regions associated with virulence erosion during in vitro culture. Cultures were maintained for eight months, with subcultures and virulence testing every month. Methylationsensitive amplified polymorphisms were performed at monthly intervals to characterise global changes to the pathogen’s genome during culture and also on DNA from mycelium inoculated onto Arabidopsis thaliana after eight months in culture. Characterisation of culture-induced epialleles was assessed by whole-genome re-sequencing and whole-genome bisulfite sequencing. Virulence declined with time in culture and recovered after inoculation on A. thaliana. Variation detected by methylation-sensitive amplified polymorphisms followed virulence changes during culture. Wholegenome (bisulfite) sequencing showed marked changes in global and local methylation during culture but no significant genetic changes. We imply that virulence is a non-essential plastic character that is at least partly modified by the changing levels of DNA methylation during culture. We hypothesise that changing DNA methylation during culture may be responsible for the high virulence/low virulence transition in B. cinerea and speculate that this may offer fresh opportunities to control pathogen virulence.
- Fungal pathogen culture
- Grey mould fungus
- Methylation Sensitive Amplified Polymorphisims
- Whole Genome Bisulfite Sequencing
- DNA Methylation
- Host-Pathogen Interactions/genetics