DOI: 10.1111/tpj.16606 ISSN: 0960-7412

A MAP kinase cascade broadly regulates the lifestyle of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and can be targeted by HIGS for disease control

Lei Tian, Josh Li, Yan Xu, Yilan Qiu, Yuelin Zhang, Xin Li
  • Cell Biology
  • Plant Science
  • Genetics


Sclerotinia sclerotiorum causes white mold or stem rot in a wide range of economically important plants, bringing significant yield losses worldwide. Control of this pathogen is difficult as its resting structure sclerotia can survive in soil for years, and no Resistance genes have been identified in S. sclerotiorum hosts. Host‐induced gene silencing (HIGS) has shown promising effects in controlling many fungal pathogens, including S. sclerotiorum. However, better molecular genetic understanding of signaling pathways involved in its development and pathogenicity is needed to provide effective HIGS gene targets. Here, by employing a forward genetic screen, we characterized an evolutionarily conserved mitogen‐activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade in S. sclerotiorum, consisting of SsSte50‐SsSte11‐SsSte7‐Smk1, which controls mycelial growth, sclerotia development, compound appressoria formation, virulence, and hyphal fusion. Moreover, disruption of the putative downstream transcription factor SsSte12 led to normal sclerotia but deformed appressoria and attenuated host penetration, as well as impaired apothecia formation, suggestive of diverged regulation downstream of the MAPK cascade. Most importantly, targeting SsSte50 using host‐expressed double‐stranded RNA resulted in largely reduced virulence of S. sclerotiorum on both Nicotiana benthamiana leaves and transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana plants. Therefore, this MAPK signaling cascade is generally needed for its growth, development, and pathogenesis and can serve as ideal HIGS targets for mitigating economic damages caused by S. sclerotiorum infection.

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