Genome evolution of Verticillium fungi

The small fungal genus Verticillium comprises ten species, some of which are notorious pathogens on hundreds of plant species that cause significant economic and ecological impact. By genome sequencing and subsequent comparative analyses we aim to resolve the evolution of the individual species within this highly diverse fungal genus.

The genus Verticillium contains ten soil-borne fungal species that differ significantly in their lifestyles. Some live as saprophytes that degrade dead organic matter, while others are aggressive pathogens on hundreds of diverse plant species. These pathogens cause billions of euro damages annually, seriously threaten natural plant populations, and thus have significant economic and ecological impact. With its ability to cause vascular wilt disease on >200 plant species, Verticillium dahliae is one of the most notorious plant pathogens. Extensive research on V. dahliae at the Laboratory of Phytopathology recently revealed remarkable genome plasticity (e.g. large-scale structural variations) linked to the evolution of aggressiveness. In contrast to V. dahliae, insights into the evolution of the remaining members of this genus is limited. We recently obtained whole-genome sequences for all ten species within the genus Verticillium, with the aim to resolve their evolution. To this end, we study the genome (nuclear and mitochondrial) organization by reconstructing the precise chromosomal history, and determine large-scale structural variations that shape extant Verticillium species. Moreover, we focus on determining the differences in gene content between Verticillium species, either caused by acquisition (e.g. horizontal gene transfer), loss, or duplication of genes and gene families, with particular emphasis on genes with roles in adaptation to the environment, virulence or pathogenicity factors.