Project title: The evolution of plant-associated lifestyles in the Ascomycota and their effectors
Summary: The Ascomycota form the largest phylum in the fungal kingdom and show a wide diversity of lifestyles, some involving beneficial or harmful associations with plants. Understanding evolutionary transitions between fungal endophytes – species which live asymptomatically in plant tissues – and fungal plant pathogens is of major significance in economic and ecological issues relating to plant health. This project aims to describe the evolutionary origins of the endophytic and plant pathogenic strategies by generating a robust genomic phylogeny of the Ascomycota with comprehensive taxon sampling. By reconstructing lifestyles and host preferences across ancestral nodes of the phylogeny, the patterns of evolutionary transitions between plant-associated species will be revealed. This framework will also enable the testing of hypotheses about how effector gene families have evolved in independent plant-associated lineages. Effectors, fungal secreted proteins known to play a role in pathogenesis, have been extensively studied in the context of plant-fungal pathogenic interactions. The role of effector genes in the context of fungal endophytes could shed light on the level of functional equivalence between plant pathogens and endophytes.