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What makes a specialized endophyte special?

Gladieux, Pierre
Molecular ecology 2018 v.27 no.15 pp. 3037-3039
agricultural management, biodiversity, biologists, endophytes, fungi, genome, genomics, genotype, grasses, hosts, humans, microbial biomass, pathogens, plant physiology, protein secretion, symbionts
Fungal plant symbionts can be highly specialized on a limited range of host genotypes and species. Understanding the genetic basis of this specialization, the mechanisms governing its establishment and the relationship between specialization and speciation is a major challenge for evolutionary biologists (Timms & Read,). A deeper knowledge of evolutionary plant–microbe interactions could be exploited to improve agricultural management, by bringing fungal biodiversity and fungal biomass under greater and more durable human control. Previous studies on pathogens have shown that effectors, that is, small secreted proteins that modulate plant physiology to favour host colonization, play a key role in infection of novel hosts (e.g., Inoue et al.,) or in host specialization (e.g., Liao et al. ()). Like pathogens, endophytes also manipulate the physiology of their hosts and colonize novel hosts to which they specialize (Hardoim et al.,). These biological characteristics of endophytes raise the question of similarities in the protein arsenal contributing to the specialization of pathogens and endophytes. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Schirrmann et al. () used a combination of divergence genome scans and tests for positive selection to investigate the genetic basis of specialization of two subspecies of the symbiont Epichloë typhina occurring on two different grass hosts. Their analyses suggest a key role of effectors as determinants of host specialization. This study paves the way towards the comparative analysis of the genomics of speciation among plant symbionts.