A slicing mechanism facilitates host entry by plant-pathogenic Phytophthora

Bronkhorst, Jochem; Kasteel, Michiel; Veen, Stijn van; Clough, Jess M.; Kots, Kiki; Buijs, Jesse; Gucht, Jasper van der; Ketelaar, Tijs; Govers, Francine; Sprakel, Joris


Phytophthora species, classified as oomycetes, are among the most destructive plant pathogens worldwide and pose a substantial threat to food security. Plant pathogens have developed various methods to breach the cuticle and walls of plant cells. For example, plant-pathogenic fungi use a ‘brute-force’ approach by producing a specialized and fortified invasion organ to generate invasive pressures. Unlike in fungi, the biomechanics of host invasion in oomycetes remains poorly understood. Here, using a combination of surface-deformation imaging, molecular-fracture sensors and modelling, we find that Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora palmivora and Phytophthora capsici slice through the plant surface to gain entry into host tissues. To distinguish this mode of entry from the brute-force approach of fungi that use appressoria, we name this oomycete entry without appressorium formation ‘naifu’ invasion. Naifu invasion relies on polarized, non-concentric, force generation onto the surface at an oblique angle, which concentrates stresses at the site of invasion to enable surface breaching. Measurements of surface deformations during invasion of artificial substrates reveal a polarized mechanical geometry that we describe using a mathematical model. We confirm that the same mode of entry is used on real hosts. Naifu invasion uses actin-mediated polarity, surface adherence and turgor generation to enable Phytophthora to invade hosts without requiring specialized organs or vast turgor generation.