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Infection Strategies Deployed by Botrytis cinerea, Fusarium acuminatum, and Rhizopus stolonifer as a Function of Tomato Fruit Ripening Stage.


Worldwide, 20-25% of all harvested fruit and vegetables are lost annually in the field and throughout the postharvest supply chain due to rotting by fungal pathogens. Most postharvest pathogens exhibit necrotrophic or saprotrophic lifestyles, resulting in decomposition of the host tissues and loss of marketable commodities. Necrotrophic fungi can readily infect ripe fruit leading to the rapid establishment of disease symptoms. However, these pathogens generally fail to infect unripe fruit or remain quiescent until host conditions stimulate a successful infection. Previous research on infections of fruit has mainly been focused on the host's genetic and physicochemical factors that inhibit or promote disease. Here, we investigated if fruit pathogens can modify their own infection strategies in response to the ripening stage of the host. To test this hypothesis, we profiled global gene expression of three fungal pathogens that display necrotrophic behavior-Botrytis cinerea, Fusarium acuminatum, and Rhizopus stolonifer-during interactions with unripe and ripe tomato fruit. We assembled and functionally annotated the transcriptomes of F. acuminatum and R. stolonifer as no genomic resources were available. Then, we conducted differential gene expression analysis to compare each pathogen during inoculations versus in vitro conditions. Through characterizing patterns of overrepresented pathogenicity and virulence functions (e.g., phytotoxin production, cell wall degradation, and proteolysis) among the differentially expressed genes, we were able to determine shared strategies among the three fungi during infections of compatible (ripe) and incompatible (unripe) fruit tissues. Though each pathogen's strategy differed in the details, interactions with unripe fruit were commonly characterized by an emphasis on the degradation of cell wall components, particularly pectin, while colonization of ripe fruit featured more heavily redox processes, proteolysis, metabolism of simple sugars, and chitin biosynthesis. Furthermore, we determined that the three fungi were unable to infect fruit from the non-ripening (nor) tomato mutant, confirming that to cause disease, these pathogens require the host tissues to undergo specific ripening processes. By enabling a better understanding of fungal necrotrophic infection strategies, we move closer to generating accurate models of fruit diseases and the development of early detection tools and effective management strategies.

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