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Lineage-specific selection and the evolution of virulence in the Candida clade.

  • Author(s): Singh-Babak, Sheena D;
  • Babak, Tomas;
  • Fraser, Hunter B;
  • Johnson, Alexander D
  • et al.
Abstract

Candida albicans is the most common cause of systemic fungal infections in humans and is considerably more virulent than its closest known relative, Candida dubliniensis. To investigate this difference, we constructed interspecies hybrids and quantified mRNA levels produced from each genome in the hybrid. This approach systematically identified expression differences in orthologous genes arising from cis-regulatory sequence changes that accumulated since the two species last shared a common ancestor, some 10 million y ago. We documented many orthologous gene-expression differences between the two species, and we pursued one striking observation: All 15 genes coding for the enzymes of glycolysis showed higher expression from the C. albicans genome than the C. dubliniensis genome in the interspecies hybrid. This pattern requires evolutionary changes to have occurred at each gene; the fact that they all act in the same direction strongly indicates lineage-specific natural selection as the underlying cause. To test whether these expression differences contribute to virulence, we created a C. dubliniensis strain in which all 15 glycolysis genes were produced at modestly elevated levels and found that this strain had significantly increased virulence in the standard mouse model of systemic infection. These results indicate that small expression differences across a deeply conserved set of metabolism enzymes can play a significant role in the evolution of virulence in fungal pathogens.

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