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Over 400 delegates from around the world gathered in Marburg for the 11th European conference on fungal genetics. Philipps-Univertat Marburg has been famous as the historical landmark for discussion of conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics, and more importantly for its long research tradition in Ustilago, a serious corn pathogen.
The session that drew my interest was on sex and sexual development of fungi, as I have been studying the mating type (MAT) loci evolution of forest pathogens in Grosmannia (Ascomycota). I was keen to have some scientific update on this topic. Robert Debuchy compared the evolutionary relationship between the crozier formation in ascomycota to the clamp connections in Basidiomycota – indicating the genes regulating these two processes are not homologs. This subject is complex and has been little s tudied. Monika Schmol l then demonstrated the discovery of novel pheromone receptor genes and their significance in the sexual development of Trichoderma reesei. Understanding the sexual cycle of presumed ‘asexual fungi’ can help to establish the relationships between genetic variability and recombination.
My poster illustrated the proposed mechanisms for the presence of truncated MAT1-1 genes in the MAT1-2 loci of the heterothallic Grosmannia species. I have received lots of comments on the putative functions of the truncated MAT genes and alternative mechanisms leading to this interesting pattern. Also I was able to discuss with other scientists on the media that can promote perithecia formation because the fruiting bodies of Grosmannia are rarely observed, as well as the expression patterns of pheromone genes and genes involved in sexual reproduction in asexual fungi.
On the last day of conference, I participated in the workshop on the genomics of Dothideomycetes, which is home to many nasty plant pathogens.
Most speakers gave a very good introduction of the genomics, transcriptomes and biology of these important groups of fungal plant pathogens. Gillian Turgeon explained the expansion and diversity of PKS gene families in the plant pathogenic Cochl iobolus species. Functional analysis of several species-unique PKSs and NRPSs revealed a strong correlation with roles in virulence. Then Nada Kraeve reported the function of P450 in Cochliobolus lunatus for adaptation to novel ecological niches and habitats.
These compounds may have potential in pharmaceutical industry and I found this information practical and useful.
Since I was studying the population genetics of forest pathogens, and the effects of climate change on the pathogen expansion, I enjoyed a lot the presentation from Eva Stukenbrock. She presented an overview on how the environments affect the evolution of fungal pathogens – the contrasting evolutionary patterns between the domesticated and wild species.
Obviously the level of genetic variation has dramatically decreased in many domesticated species relative to their wild relatives. Overall this was an excellent workshop to understand the fungal life style, e.g. biotrophs, necrotrophs and their corresponding genomic signatures.
I met new people from various countries along with reunions with old friends and colleagues. I would like to thank the BSPP for the travel funding to attend the conference and giving me the opportunity to meet and interact with scientists worldwide.
Clement Tsui The University of British Columbia Canada