Tag Archives: evolution



A two-year postdoctoral position is available in the research group of professor Hanna Johannesson, at the Evolutionary Biology Centre (EBC), Uppsala University.

State-of-the art sequencing technology has opened opportunities to comprehensively investigate structural variants (SVs: such as deletions, insertions, duplications, inversions and translocations) in genomes of natural populations. Such SVs are often associated with gene expression changes and may be of large phenotypic effects. The main goal of this postdoc project is to use sequencing data (e.g. PacBio long read sequence data) for the model system Neurospora, emerging from our most recent sequencing projects, to increase our understanding of the impact of SVs for the evolution of eukaryote genomes. In particular, we can use the well-established phylogenetic framework of Neurospora to study the accumulation of SVs over evolutionary time, and connect them to characters such as genome size expansion/retraction, mating-system transition and speciation. By combining comparative genomic, phylogenetic and population genetic analyses, the evolutionary significance of SVs in natural populations can be traced. The project will be developed after the interest of the applicant, but should encompass a perspective of genome evolution addressed by bioinformatic/genomic approaches.

Applicants should have a PhD in biology/evolutionary biology and have documented experience in bioinformatics. Documented skills in comparative genomics, molecular phylogenetics and/or population genetics is highly valued.

Start date is flexible, ideally January 1, 2016. The position can be extended for up to two more years.

Please send your application materials by September 25 to Hanna.Johannesson@ebc.uu.se. The application shall include:
1) a cover letter stating research interests,
2) a CV, including publication record,
3) a short (1-2 page) description of research accomplishments, and
4) name and contact information for three references.

Please feel free to contact me at the above listed e-mail with questions.

Postdoc: Univ of Minnesota Fungal Genomics

Postdoctoral Position – Fungal Genomics and Metabolomics
University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

Position description:

A postdoctoral position focused on comparative genomics, metabolomics, and regulatory mechanisms of secondary metabolites in fungi is available in the Bushley lab. This project will focus on population genomics of fungi (Fusarium, Tolypocladium spp.) to investigate regulation and evolution of secondary metabolite genes, clusters, and metabolites. The project will
adopt an interdisciplinary approach that integrates next-generation genome sequencing and assembly, comparative genomics, and RNA-Seq experiments with analyses of chemical products. Genome resequencing will examine the roles of structural variation, transposition, selection, genome methylation, and other evolutionary processes in driving the diversification of secondary metabolite genes and clusters. Strain specific differences in metabolite expression will be investigated under a variety of different media conditions and data will be integrated to develop and analyze metabolic and regulatory networks involved in controlling secondary metabolism.

Minimum requirements:
A Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics, mycology, genomics, chemistry, biochemistry, or related fields. The ideal candidate will have existing skills in two or more of the following: experience in sequencing and analysis of next-generation sequence data, bioinformatics and comparative genomics, molecular biology, mass spectrometry, NMR, and a willingness to learn new techniques. The initial appointments is for 1 year, with an opportunity for renewal for a second year. The position is available beginning in June 2014. Start date is flexible. Salary range $38,000 – $43,000 depending on experience, plus health benefits.

To apply:
Any questions regarding the position should be directed to kbushley@umn.edu. Informal inquiries are welcome. Applicants must apply through the University of Minnesota Office of Human Resources website (http://employment.umn.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=119828) and include a CV, a cover letter detailing research interests and experience, and contact information for three references. Screening of applicants will begin May 15 until a suitable candidate is found.

Kathryn Bushley
Assistant Professor
University of Minnesota
Department of Plant Biology
822 BioSci Bldg
1445 Gortner Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108

Presents for the holidays – Plant pathogen genomes

Though a bit cliche, I think the metaphor of “presents under the tree” of some new plant pathogen genomes summarized in 4 recent publications is still too good to resist.  There are 4 papers in this week’s Science that will certainly make a collection of plant pathogen biologists very happy. There are also treats for the general purpose genome biologists with descriptions of next generation/2nd generation sequencing technologies, assembly methods, and comparative genomics. Much more inside these papers than I am summarizing so I urge you to take look if you have access to these pay-for-view articles or contact the authors for reprints to get a copy.


These include the genome of biotrophic oomycete and Arabidopsis pathogen Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis (Baxter et al). While preserving the health of Arabidopsis is not a major concern of most researchers, this is an excellent model system for studying plant-microbe interaction.  The genome sequence of Hpa provides a look at specialization as a biotroph. The authors found a reduction (relative to other oomycete species) in factors related to host-targeted degrading enzymes and also reduction in necrosis factors suggesting the specialization in biotrophic lifestyle from a necrotrophic ancestor. Hpa also does not make zoospores with flagella like its relatives and sequence searches for 90 flagella-related genes turned up no identifiable homologs.

While the technical aspects of sequencing are less glamourous now the authors used Sanger and Illumina sequencing to complete this genome at 45X sequencing coverage and an estimated genome size fo 80 Mb. To produce the assembly they used Velvet on the paired end Illumina data to produce a 56Mb assembly and PCAP (8X coverage to produce a 70Mb genome) on the Sanger reads to produce two assemblies that were merged with an ad hoc procedure that relied on BLAT to scaffold and link contigs through the two assembled datasets. They used CEGMA and several in-house pipelines to annotate the genes in this assembly. SYNTENY analysis was completed with PHRINGE. A relatively large percentage (17%) of the genome fell into ‘Unknown repetitive sequence’ that is unclassified – larger than P.sojae (12%) but there remain a lot of mystery elements of unknown function in these genomes.  If you jump ahead to the Blumeria genome article you’ll see this is still peanuts compared to that Blumeria’s genome (64%). The largest known transposable element family in Hpa was the LTR/Gypsy element. Of interest to some following oomycete literature is the relative abundance of the RLXR containing proteins which are typically effectors – there were still quite a few (~150 instead of ~500 see in some Phytophora genomes).



A second paper on the genome of the barley powdery mildew Blumeria graminis f.sp. hordei and two close relatives Erysiphe pisi, a pea pathogen, and Golovinomyces orontii, an Arabidopsis thaliana pathogen (Spanu et al).  These are Ascomycetes in the Leotiomycete class where there are only a handful of genomes Overall this paper tells a story told about how obligate biotrophy has shaped the genome. I found most striking was depicted in Figure 1. It shows that typical genome size for (so far sampled) Pezizomycotina Ascomycetes in the ~40-50Mb range whereas these powdery mildew genomes here significantly large genomes in ~120-160 Mb range. These large genomes were primarily comprised of Transposable Elements (TE) with ~65% of the genome containing TE. However the protein coding gene content is still only on the order of ~6000 genes, which is actually quite low for a filamentous Ascomycete, suggesting that despite genome expansion the functional potential shows signs of reduction.  The obligate lifestyle of the powdery mildews suggested that the species had lost some autotrophic genes and the authors further cataloged a set of ~100 genes which are missing in the mildews but are found in the core ascomycete genomes. They also document other genome cataloging results like only a few secondary metabolite genes although these are typically in much higher copy numbers in other filamentous ascomycetes (e.g. Aspergillus).  I still don’t have a clear picture of how this gene content differs from their closest sequenced neighbors, the other Leotiomycetes Botrytis cinerea and Sclerotinia sclerotium, are on the order of 12-14k genes. Since the E. pisi and G. orontii data is not yet available in GenBank or the MPI site it is hard to figure this out just yet – I presume it will be available soon.

More techie details — The authors used Sanger and second generation technologies and utilized the Celera assembler to build the assemblies from 120X coverage sequence from a hybrid of sequencing technologies.  Interestingly, for the E. pisi and G. orontii assemblies the MPI site lists the genome sizes closer to 65Mb in the first drafts of the assembly with 454 data so I guess you can see what happens when the Newbler assembler which overcollapses repeats. They also used a customized automated annotation with some ab intio gene finders (not sure if there was custom training or not for the various gene finders) and estimated the coverage with the CEGMA genes. I do think a Fungal-Specific set of core-conserved genes would be in order here as a better comparison set – some nice data like this already exist in a few databases but would be interesting to see if CEGMA represents a broad enough core-set to estimate genome coverage vs a Fungal-derived CEGMA-like set.


A third paper in this issue covers the genome evolution in the massively successful pathogen Phytophora infestans through resequencing of six genomes of related species to track recent evolutionary history of the pathogen (Raffaele et al). The authors used high throughput Illumina sequencing to sequence genomes of closely related species. They found a variety differences among genes in the pathogen among the findings “genes in repeat-rich regions show[ed] higher rates of structural polymorphisms and positive selection”. They found 14% of the genes experienced positive selection and these included many (300 out of ~800) of the annotated effector genes. P. infestans also showed high rates of change in the repeat rich regions which is also where a lot of the disease implicated genes are locating supporting the hypothesis that the repeat driven expansion of the genome (as described in the 2009 genome paper). The paper generates a lot of very nice data for followup by helping to prioritize the genes with fast rates of evolution or profiles that suggest they have been shaped by recent adaptive evolutionary forces and are candidates for the mechanisms of pathogenecity in this devastating plant pathogen.


A fourth paper describes the genome sequencing of Sporisorium reilianum, a biotrophic pathogen that is closely related species to corn smut Ustilago maydis (Schirawski et al). Both these species both infect maize hosts but while U. maydis induces tumors in the ears, leaves, tassels of corn the S. reilianum infection is limited to tassels and . The authors used comparative biology and genome sequencing to try and tease out what genetic components may be responsible for the phenotypic differences. The comparison revealed a relative syntentic genome but also found 43 regions in U. maydis that represent highly divergent sequence between the species. These regions contained disproportionate number of secreted proteins indicating that these secreted proteins have been evolving at a much faster rate and that they may be important for the distinct differences in the biology. The chromosome ends of U. maydis were also found to contain up to 20 additional genes in the sub-telomeric regions that were unique to U. maydis. Another fantastic finding that this sequencing and comparison revealed is more about the history of the lack of RNAi genes in U. maydis. It was a striking feature from the 2006 genome sequence that the genome lacked a functioning copy of Dicer. However knocking out this gene in S. reilianum failed to show a developmental or virulence phenotype suggesting it is dispensible for those functions so I think there will be some followups to explore (like do either of these species make small RNAs, do they produce any that are translocated to the host, etc).  The rest of the analyses covered in the manuscript identify the specific loci that are different between the two species — interestingly a lot of the identified loci were the same ones found as islands of secreted proteins in the first genome analysis paper so the comparative approach was another way to get to the genes which may be important for the virulence if the two organisms have different phenotypes. This is certainly the approach that has also been take in other plant pathogens (e.g. Mycosphaerella, Fusarium) and animal pathogens (Candida, Cryptococcus, Coccidioides) but requires a sampling species or appropriate distance that that the number of changes haven’t saturated our ability to reconstruct the history either at the gene order/content or codon level.

Without the comparison of an outgroup species it is impossible to determine if U. maydis gained function that relates to the phenotypes observed here through these speculated evolutionary changes involving new genes and newly evolved functions or if S. reilianum lost functionality that was present in their common ancestor. However, this paper is an example of how using a comparative approach can identify testable hypotheses for origins of pathogenecity genes.


Hope everyone has a chance to enjoy holidays and unwrap and spend some time looking at these and other science gems over the coming weeks.


Baxter, L., Tripathy, S., Ishaque, N., Boot, N., Cabral, A., Kemen, E., Thines, M., Ah-Fong, A., Anderson, R., Badejoko, W., Bittner-Eddy, P., Boore, J., Chibucos, M., Coates, M., Dehal, P., Delehaunty, K., Dong, S., Downton, P., Dumas, B., Fabro, G., Fronick, C., Fuerstenberg, S., Fulton, L., Gaulin, E., Govers, F., Hughes, L., Humphray, S., Jiang, R., Judelson, H., Kamoun, S., Kyung, K., Meijer, H., Minx, P., Morris, P., Nelson, J., Phuntumart, V., Qutob, D., Rehmany, A., Rougon-Cardoso, A., Ryden, P., Torto-Alalibo, T., Studholme, D., Wang, Y., Win, J., Wood, J., Clifton, S., Rogers, J., Van den Ackerveken, G., Jones, J., McDowell, J., Beynon, J., & Tyler, B. (2010). Signatures of Adaptation to Obligate Biotrophy in the Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis Genome Science, 330 (6010), 1549-1551 DOI: 10.1126/science.1195203

Spanu, P., Abbott, J., Amselem, J., Burgis, T., Soanes, D., Stuber, K., Loren van Themaat, E., Brown, J., Butcher, S., Gurr, S., Lebrun, M., Ridout, C., Schulze-Lefert, P., Talbot, N., Ahmadinejad, N., Ametz, C., Barton, G., Benjdia, M., Bidzinski, P., Bindschedler, L., Both, M., Brewer, M., Cadle-Davidson, L., Cadle-Davidson, M., Collemare, J., Cramer, R., Frenkel, O., Godfrey, D., Harriman, J., Hoede, C., King, B., Klages, S., Kleemann, J., Knoll, D., Koti, P., Kreplak, J., Lopez-Ruiz, F., Lu, X., Maekawa, T., Mahanil, S., Micali, C., Milgroom, M., Montana, G., Noir, S., O’Connell, R., Oberhaensli, S., Parlange, F., Pedersen, C., Quesneville, H., Reinhardt, R., Rott, M., Sacristan, S., Schmidt, S., Schon, M., Skamnioti, P., Sommer, H., Stephens, A., Takahara, H., Thordal-Christensen, H., Vigouroux, M., Wessling, R., Wicker, T., & Panstruga, R. (2010). Genome Expansion and Gene Loss in Powdery Mildew Fungi Reveal Tradeoffs in Extreme Parasitism Science, 330 (6010), 1543-1546 DOI: 10.1126/science.1194573

Raffaele, S., Farrer, R., Cano, L., Studholme, D., MacLean, D., Thines, M., Jiang, R., Zody, M., Kunjeti, S., Donofrio, N., Meyers, B., Nusbaum, C., & Kamoun, S. (2010). Genome Evolution Following Host Jumps in the Irish Potato Famine Pathogen Lineage Science, 330 (6010), 1540-1543 DOI: 10.1126/science.1193070

Schirawski, J., Mannhaupt, G., Munch, K., Brefort, T., Schipper, K., Doehlemann, G., Di Stasio, M., Rossel, N., Mendoza-Mendoza, A., Pester, D., Muller, O., Winterberg, B., Meyer, E., Ghareeb, H., Wollenberg, T., Munsterkotter, M., Wong, P., Walter, M., Stukenbrock, E., Guldener, U., & Kahmann, R. (2010). Pathogenicity Determinants in Smut Fungi Revealed by Genome Comparison Science, 330 (6010), 1546-1548 DOI: 10.1126/science.1195330

A mushroom on the cover

I’ll indulge a bit here to happily to point to the cover of this week’s PNAS with an image of Coprinopsis cinerea mushrooms fruiting referring to our article on the genome sequence of this important model fungus.  You should also enjoy the commentary article from John Taylor and Chris Ellison that provides a summary of some of the high points in the paper.

Coprinopsis cover

Stajich, J., Wilke, S., Ahren, D., Au, C., Birren, B., Borodovsky, M., Burns, C., Canback, B., Casselton, L., Cheng, C., Deng, J., Dietrich, F., Fargo, D., Farman, M., Gathman, A., Goldberg, J., Guigo, R., Hoegger, P., Hooker, J., Huggins, A., James, T., Kamada, T., Kilaru, S., Kodira, C., Kues, U., Kupfer, D., Kwan, H., Lomsadze, A., Li, W., Lilly, W., Ma, L., Mackey, A., Manning, G., Martin, F., Muraguchi, H., Natvig, D., Palmerini, H., Ramesh, M., Rehmeyer, C., Roe, B., Shenoy, N., Stanke, M., Ter-Hovhannisyan, V., Tunlid, A., Velagapudi, R., Vision, T., Zeng, Q., Zolan, M., & Pukkila, P. (2010). Insights into evolution of multicellular fungi from the assembled chromosomes of the mushroom Coprinopsis cinerea (Coprinus cinereus) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (26), 11889-11894 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003391107

Origins and evolution of pathogens

ResearchBlogging.org An article in PLoS Pathogens by Morris et al describe a hypothesis about the evolution and origins of plant pathogens applying the parallel theories to the emergence of medically relevant pathogens. The authors highlight the importance of understanding the evolution of organisms in the context of emerging pathogens like Puccinia Ug99 for our ability to design strategies to protect human health and food supplies.  Both bacterial and fungal pathogens of plants are discussed but I (perhaps unsurprisingly) focus on the fungi here. Continue reading Origins and evolution of pathogens

Neurospora 2010 and upcoming fungal conferences

Don’t forget to register for Neurospora 2010 held at the beautiful Asilomar Conference center in Pacific Grove, CA held April 8-11, 2010. Get your filamentous fungi fix here!

Also save the date for some other important upcoming conferences you may consider attending

Other evolutionary and genomics meetings

Trichoderma reesei genome paper published

TrichodermaThe Trichoderma reesei genome paper was recently published in Nature Biotechnology from Diego Martinez at LANL with collaborators at JGI, LBNL, and others. This fungus was chosen for sequencing because it was found on canvas tents eating the cotton material suggesting it may be a good candidate for degrading cellulose plant material as part of cellulosic ethanol or other biofuels production.  The fungus also has starring roles in industrial processes like making stonewashed jeans due to its prodigious cellulase production.

The most surprising findings from the paper include the fact that there are so few members of some of the enzyme families even though this fungus is able to generate enzymes with so much cellulase activity. The authors found that there is not a significantly larger number of glucoside hydrolases which is a collection of carbohydrate degrading enzymes great for making simple sugars out of complex ones. In fact, several plant pathogens compared (Fusarium graminearum and Magnaporthe grisea) and the sake fermenting Aspergillus oryzae all have more members of this family than does.  T. reesei has almost the least (36) copies of a cellulose binding domain (CBM) of any of the filamentous ascomycete fungi.  They used the CAZyme database (carbohydrate active enzymes) database which has done a fantastic job building up profiles of different enzymes involved in carhohydrate degradation binding, and modifications.

Whether T. reesei is really the best cellulose degrading fungus is definitely an open question.  That it works well in the industrial culture that it has been utilized in is important, but there may be other species of fungi with improved cellulase activity and who may in fact have many more copies of cellulases.  So it will be good to add other fungi to the mix with quantitative information about degradation to try and glean what are the most important combination of enzymes and activities.

One technical note.  The comparison of copy number differences employed in the paper is a simple enough Chi-Squared, work that I’ve done with Matt Hahn and others include a gene family size comparison approach that also taked into account phylogenetic distances and assumes a birth-death process of gene family size change.  It would be great to apply the copy number differences through this or other approaches that just evaluate gene trees for these domains to see where the differences are significant and if they can be polarized to a particular branch of the tree.

So will this genome sequence lead to cheaper, better biofuel production? Certainly it provides an important toolkit to start systematically testing individual cellulase enzymes. It’s hard to say how fast this will make an impact, but the work of JBEI and a host of other research groups and biotech companies are going to be able to systematically test out the utility of these individual enzymes.

There is also evolutionary work by other groups on the evolution of these Hypocreales fungi trying to better define when biotrophic and heterotrophic transitions occurred to sample fungi with different lifestyles that might have different cellulase enyzmes that may not have been observed. Defining the relationships of these fungi and when and how many times transitions to lifestyles occurred to choose the most diverse fungi may be an important part of discovering novel enzymes.

Also see

Martinez, D., Berka, R.M., Henrissat, B., Saloheimo, M., Arvas, M., Baker, S.E., Chapman, J., Chertkov, O., Coutinho, P.M., Cullen, D., Danchin, E.G., Grigoriev, I.V., Harris, P., Jackson, M., Kubicek, C.P., Han, C.S., Ho, I., Larrondo, L.F., de Leon, A.L., Magnuson, J.K., Merino, S., Misra, M., Nelson, B., Putnam, N., Robbertse, B., Salamov, A.A., Schmoll, M., Terry, A., Thayer, N., Westerholm-Parvinen, A., Schoch, C.L., Yao, J., Barbote, R., Nelson, M.A., Detter, C., Bruce, D., Kuske, C.R., Xie, G., Richardson, P., Rokhsar, D.S., Lucas, S.M., Rubin, E.M., Dunn-Coleman, N., Ward, M., Brettin, T.S. (2008). Genome sequencing and analysis of the biomass-degrading fungus Trichoderma reesei (syn. Hypocrea jecorina). Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/nbt1403

Podospora genome published

P.anserinaThe genome of Podospora anserina S mat+ strain was sequenced by Genoscope and CNRS and published recently in Genome Biology. The genome sequence data has been available for several years, but it is great to see a publication describing the findings.  The 10X genome assembly with ~10,000 genes provides an important dataset for comparisons among filamentous Sordariomycete fungi. The authors primarily focused on comparative genomics of Podospora to Neurospora crassa, the next closest model filamentous species.  Within the Sordariomycetes there are now a very interesting collection of closely related species which can be useful for applying synteny and phylogenomics approaches.

The analyses in the manuscript focused on these differences between Neurospora and Podospora identifying some key differences in carbon utilization contrasting the coprophillic (Podospora) and plant saprophyte (Neurospora).  There are several observations of gene family expansions in the Podospora genome which could be interpreted as additional enzyme capacity to break down carbon sources that are present in dung.

The genome of Neurospora has be shaped by the action of the genome defense mechanisms like RIP that has been on interpretation of the reduced number of large gene families and paucity of transposons. The authors report a surprising finding that in their analysis that despite sharing orthologs of genes that are involved in several genome defense, they in fact find fewer repetitive sequences in Podospora while it still fails to have good evidence of RIP.

Overall, these data suggest that P. anserina has experienced a fairly complex history of transposition and duplications, although it has not accumulated as many repeats as N. crassaP. anserina possesses all the orthologues of N. crassa factors necessary for gene silencing, including RIP, meiotic MSUD and also vegetative quelling, a post transcriptional gene silencing mechanism akin to RNA interference

I think this data and observations interleaves nicely with the work our group is exploring on evolution of genome of several Neurospora species which have different mating systems. The fact that the gene components that play a role in MSUD and a RIP are found in Podpospora but yet the degree of RIP and the lack of any observed meiotic silencing suggests some interesting occurrences on the Neurospora branch to be explored.  The potentially different degrees of RIP efficiency and types of mating systems (heterothallic and pseudohomothallic) among the Neurospora spp may also provide a link to understanding how RIP evolved and its role on N. crassa evolution.

Senescence in Podospora

Another aspect of Podopsora biology that isn’t touched on, is the use of the fungus as a model for senescence.  The fungus exhibits maternal senescence which involves targeted changes in the mitochondria that leads to cell death.  The evolutionary and molecular basis for this process has been of interest to many research groups and the genome sequence can provide an additional toolkit for identifying the factors involved in the apoptosis process in this filamentous fungi. Whether it will help find a real link for aging research in other eukaryotes remains to be seen, but it is a good model system for some aspects of how aging and damage to mtDNA are linked.

Espagne, E., Lespinet, O., Malagnac, F., Da Silva, C., Jaillon, O., Porcel, B.M., Couloux, A., Aury, J., et al (2008). The genome sequence of the model ascomycete fungus Podospora anserina. Genome Biology, 9(5), R77. DOI: 10.1186/gb-2008-9-5-r77

More RIP without sex?

In followup to the Aspergillus RIP paper discussion, Jo Anne posted in the comments that her paper published in FGB about RIP in another asexual species of fungi also found that evidence for the meiosis-specific process of Repeat Induced Point-mutations (RIP).

Continue reading More RIP without sex?

Aspergillus comparative transcriptional profiling


Researchers from Technical University of Denmark published some interesting results from comparing expression across the very distinct Aspergillus species.

Kudos also goes to making it Open Access. I am posting a few key figures below the fold because I can! They grew the fungi in bioreactors fermenting glucose or xylose. After calibrating the growth curves they were able to sample the appropriate time points for comparison of gene expression across these three species. They found a set of genes commonly expressed.

Continue reading Aspergillus comparative transcriptional profiling