The Narrow Footprint of Ancient Balancing Selection Revealed by Heterokaryon Incompatibility Genes in Aspergillus fumigatus

Ben Auxier*, Jianhua Zhang, Francisca Marquez, Kira Senden, Joost van den Heuvel, Duur Aanen, Eveline Snelders, Alfons Debets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In fungi, fusion between individuals leads to localized cell death, a phenomenon termed heterokaryon incompatibility. Generally, the genes responsible for this incompatibility are observed to be under balancing selection resulting from negative frequency-dependent selection. Here, we assess this phenomenon in Aspergillus fumigatus, a human pathogenic fungus with a very low level of linkage disequilibrium as well as an extremely high crossover rate. Using complementation of auxotrophic mutations as an assay for hyphal compatibility, we screened sexual progeny for compatibility to identify genes involved in this process, called het genes. In total, 5/148 (3.4%) offspring were compatible with a parent and 166/2,142 (7.7%) sibling pairs were compatible, consistent with several segregating incompatibility loci. Genetic mapping identified five loci, four of which could be fine mapped to individual genes, of which we tested three through heterologous expression, confirming their causal relationship. Consistent with long-term balancing selection, trans-species polymorphisms were apparent across several sister species, as well as equal allele frequencies within A. fumigatus. Surprisingly, a sliding window genome-wide population-level analysis of an independent dataset did not show increased Tajima's D near these loci, in contrast to what is often found surrounding loci under balancing selection. Using available de novo assemblies, we show that these balanced polymorphisms are restricted to several hundred base pairs flanking the coding sequence. In addition to identifying the first het genes in an Aspergillus species, this work highlights the interaction of long-term balancing selection with rapid linkage disequilibrium decay.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbermsae079
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2024


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