Comparative Analysis of Host-Associated Variation in Phytophthora cactorum

Charlotte F. Nellist*, Andrew D. Armitage, Helen J. Bates, Maria K. Sobczyk, Matteo Luberti, Laura A. Lewis, Richard J. Harrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Phytophthora cactorum is often described as a generalist pathogen, with isolates causing disease in a range of plant species. It is the causative agent of two diseases in the cultivated strawberry, crown rot (CR; causing whole plant collapse) and leather rot (LR; affecting the fruit). In the cultivated apple, P. cactorum causes girdling bark rots on the scion (collar rot) and rootstock (crown rot), as well as necrosis of the fine root system (root rot) and fruit rots. We investigated evidence for host specialisation within P. cactorum through comparative genomic analysis of 18 isolates. Whole genome phylogenetic analysis provided genomic support for discrete lineages within P. cactorum, with well-supported non-recombining clades for strawberry CR and apple infecting isolates specialised to strawberry crowns and apple tissue. Isolates of strawberry CR are genetically similar globally, while there is more diversity in apple-infecting isolates. We sought to identify the genetic basis of host specialisation, demonstrating gain and loss of effector complements within the P. cactorum phylogeny, representing putative determinants of host boundaries. Transcriptomic analysis highlighted that those effectors found to be specific to a single host or expanded in the strawberry lineage are amongst those most highly expressed during infection of strawberry and give a wider insight into the key effectors active during strawberry infection. Many effectors that had homologues in other Phytophthoras that have been characterised as avirulence genes were present but not expressed in our tested isolate. Our results highlight several RxLR-containing effectors that warrant further investigation to determine whether they are indeed virulence factors and host-specificity determinants for strawberry and apple. Furthermore, additional work is required to determine whether these effectors are suitable targets to focus attention on for future resistance breeding efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number679936
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • crown rot
  • cryptic species
  • effectors
  • oomycete
  • phylogenomics


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