Obligate sexual reproduction of a homothallic fungus closely related to the Cryptococcus pathogenic species complex.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

eLife digest. Fungi are enigmatic organisms that flourish in soil, on decaying plants, or during infection of animals or plants. Growing in myriad forms, from single-celled yeast to multicellular molds and mushrooms, fungi have also evolved a variety of strategies to reproduce. Normally, fungi reproduce in one of two ways: either they reproduce asexually, with one individual producing a new individual identical to itself, or they reproduce sexually, with two individuals of different 'mating types' contributing to produce a new individual. However, individuals of some species exhibit 'homothallism' or self-fertility: these individuals can produce reproductive cells that are universally compatible, and therefore can reproduce sexually with themselves or with any other cell in the population. Homothallism has evolved multiple times throughout the fungal kingdom, suggesting it confers advantage when population numbers are low or mates are hard to find. Yet some homothallic fungi been overlooked compared to heterothallic species, whose mating types have been well characterised. Understanding the genetic basis of homothallism and how it evolved in different species can provide insights into pathogenic species that cause fungal disease. With that in mind, Passer, Clancey et al. explored the genetic basis of homothallism in Cryptococcus depauperatus, a close relative of C. neoformans, a species that causes fungal infections in humans. A combination of genetic sequencing techniques and experiments were applied to analyse, compare, and manipulate C. depauperatus' genome to see how this species evolved self-fertility. Passer, Clancey et al. showed that C. depauperatus evolved the ability to reproduce sexually by itself via a unique evolutionary pathway. The result is a form of homothallism never reported in fungi before. C. depauperatus lost some of the genes that control mating in other species of fungi, and acquired genes from the opposing mating types of a heterothallic ancestor to become self-fertile. Passer, Clancey et al. also found that, unlike other Cryptococcus species that switch between asexual and sexual reproduction, C. depauperatus grows only as long, branching filaments called hyphae, a sexual form. The species reproduces sexually with itself throughout its life cycle and is unable to produce a yeast (asexual) form, in contrast to other closely related species. This work offers new insights into how different modes of sexual reproduction have evolved in fungi. It also provides another interesting case of how genome plasticity and evolutionary pressures can produce similar outcomes, homothallism, via different evolutionary paths. Lastly, assembling the complete genome of C. depauperatus will foster comparative studies between pathogenic and non-pathogenic Cryptococcus species.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Passer, AR; Clancey, SA; Shea, T; David-Palma, M; Averette, AF; Boekhout, T; Porcel, BM; Nowrousian, M; Cuomo, CA; Sun, S; Heitman, J; Coelho, MA

Published Date

  • June 17, 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 11 /

PubMed ID

  • 35713948

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC9296135

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2050-084X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.7554/eLife.79114

Language

  • eng

Conference Location

  • England