How Two Similar Mutations Affect Plant Pathogen's Fitness

Jenn Hoskins
18th March, 2024

How Two Similar Mutations Affect Plant Pathogen's Fitness

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University found that small gene changes affect plant pathogen survival
  • Two similar gene versions in the pathogen showed different strengths and temperature preferences
  • These findings suggest that even tiny genetic changes can impact how species adapt to environments
Understanding the subtleties of genetic mutations is crucial for grasping how species adapt and survive in changing environments. Traditionally, scientists have distinguished between two types of mutations in protein-coding genes: nonsynonymous and synonymous. Nonsynonymous mutations change the amino acid sequence of proteins and can have obvious effects on an organism's fitness. Synonymous mutations, on the other hand, do not alter the amino acid sequence and have been widely considered neutral in terms of evolution[2]. However, researchers from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University have recently challenged this assumption with a study focusing on a plant pathogen[1]. They explored how synonymous mutations in a housekeeping gene, ATP6, could influence the survival and spread of Phytophthora infestans, the organism responsible for potato late blight. This pathogen's ability to adapt could have significant implications for agricultural practices, especially in the face of climate change[3]. The study analyzed ATP6 gene sequences from 139 P. infestans isolates. Housekeeping genes are essential for basic cellular function, and ATP6 is involved in energy production within cells. The researchers discovered two major synonymous mutations, differing by just a single nucleotide, yet these minute changes had significant impacts on the pathogen's fitness. Fitness components such as metabolic rate, temperature sensitivity, aggressiveness, and tolerance to fungicides varied between the two mutants. Interestingly, the mutant ending in AT was more prevalent in colder climates and showed higher levels of expression at lower temperatures. Conversely, the GC-ending mutant was more common in warmer regions and had higher expression at elevated temperatures. This finding suggests that even synonymous mutations can affect the adaptability of a species by influencing gene expression patterns in response to environmental conditions. This study supports the growing body of evidence that synonymous mutations are not always neutral. Previous research has shown that synonymous mutations can affect the fitness of yeast by altering mRNA expression levels[2], and that they can drive adaptation by impacting gene expression and protein folding[4]. Moreover, synonymous mutations in the mitochondrial genome of icefish have been linked to changes in protein structure and function, hinting at their possible role in the unique physiology of these creatures[5]. The findings from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University imply that synonymous mutations could be a hidden factor in the evolution of pesticide resistance. As global temperatures rise, the ability of pathogens like P. infestans to adapt to different thermal niches may be enhanced, potentially leading to increased challenges in managing plant diseases[3]. In summary, the study has provided evidence that synonymous mutations can play a significant role in the adaptive evolution of species. This has important implications for our understanding of genetic variation and its consequences for species survival. It also highlights the need for a more nuanced approach to managing plant pathogens in a changing climate, as these seemingly neutral genetic changes can have a profound impact on the development of resistance to treatments.

BiotechGeneticsPlant Science


Main Study

1) Fitness difference between two synonymous mutations of Phytophthora infestans ATP6 gene.

Published 18th March, 2024

Journal: BMC ecology and evolution

Issue: Vol 24, Issue 1, Mar 2024

Related Studies

2) Synonymous mutations in representative yeast genes are mostly strongly non-neutral.

3) Increasing temperature elevates the variation and spatial differentiation of pesticide tolerance in a plant pathogen.

4) Effects of Synonymous Mutations beyond Codon Bias: The Evidence for Adaptive Synonymous Substitutions from Microbial Evolution Experiments.

5) Sequence and structure comparison of ATP synthase F0 subunits 6 and 8 in notothenioid fish.

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