Loss of virulence in Ustilago maydis by Umchs6 gene disruption
Xoconostle Cázares, Beatriz
Rosas Quijano, Raymundo
León Ramírez, Claudia
Ruiz Herrera, José
Specht, Charles A.
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A gene encoding a sixth chitin synthase (Umchs6, sequence GenBank accession No. AF030554) from the plant pathogenic hemibasidiomycete Ustilago maydis (DC.) Cda. was isolated and characterized. The predicted protein is 1103 amino acids in length with a calculated molecular mass of 123.5 kDa. a2b2 null
mutants were obtained by substitution of a central fragment of the Umchs6 gene with the hygromycin resistance cassette, and a1b1 null mutants were obtained by genetic recombination in plants of an a2b2Δch6 and a wild-type a1b1 strain. The mutation had no effect on the dimorphic transition in vitro or on mating, and growth rate of the mutants was only slightly reduced. On the other hand, they displayed important alterations in cell morphology, particularly at the mycelial stage, and in the staining pattern with calcofluor white. Levels of chitin synthase activity in vitro and chitin content were reduced. The most noticeable characteristic of the mutants was their almost complete loss of virulence to maize (Zea mays L.). This was a recessive character. Microscopic observations during the infectious process suggest that chitin synthase 6 activity is very important for growth of the fungus into the plant. Transformation of a2b2Δch6 mutants with an autonomous replicating plasmid carrying the full Umchs6 gene restored their normal morphological phenotype and virulence. These results are evidence that the mutation in the Umchs6 gene was solely responsible for the phenotypic alterations observed.