In silico characterization and molecular evolutionary analysis of a novel superfamily of fungal effector proteins

I. Stergiopoulos, Y.A. Kourmpetis, J.C. Slot, F.T. Bakker, P.J.G.M. de Wit, A. Rokas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Most fungal plant pathogens secrete effector proteins during pathogenesis to manipulate their host’s defense and promote disease. These are so highly diverse in sequence and distribution, they are essentially considered as species-specific. However, we have recently shown the presence of homologous effectors in fungal species of the Dothideomycetes class. One such example is Ecp2, an effector originally described in the tomato pathogen Cladosporium fulvum but later detected in the plant pathogenic fungi Mycosphaerella fijiensis and Mycosphaerella graminicola as well. Here, using in silico sequence-similarity searches against a database of 135 fungal genomes and GenBank, we extend our queries for homologs of Ecp2 to the fungal kingdom and beyond, and further study their history of diversification. Our analyses show that Ecp2 homologs are members of an ancient and widely distributed superfamily of putative fungal effectors, which we term Hce2 for Homologs of C. fulvum Ecp2. Molecular evolutionary analyses show that the superfamily originated and diversified within the fungal kingdom, experiencing multiple lineage-specific expansions and losses that are consistent with the birth-and- death model of gene family evolution. Newly formed paralogs appear to be subject to diversification early after gene duplication events, whereas at later stages purifying selection acts to preserve diversity and the newly evolved putative functions. Some members of the Hce2 superfamily are fused to fungal Glycoside Hydrolase family 18 chitinases that show high similarity to the Zymocin killer toxin from the dairy yeast Kluyveromyces lactis, suggesting an analogous role in antagonistic interactions. The observed high rates of gene duplication and loss in the Hce2 superfamily, combined with diversification in both sequence and possibly functions within and between species suggest that Hce2s are involved in adaptation to stresses and new ecological niches. Such findings address the need to rationalize effector biology and evolution beyond the perspective of solely host-microbe interactions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3371-3384
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • amino-acid sites
  • functional divergence
  • kluyveromyces-lactis
  • maximum-likelihood
  • cladosporium-fulvum
  • multigene families
  • gene duplication
  • death process
  • mixed models
  • phylogeny

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