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Draft genome sequence of Marssonina coronaria, causal agent of apple blotch, and comparisons with the Marssonina brunnea and Marssonina rosae genomes

  • Qiang Cheng ,

    Roles Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Supervision, Validation, Writing – original draft

    Affiliation Key Laboratory of Forest Genetics & Biotechnology of Ministry of Education, Co-Innovation Center for Sustainable Forestry in Southern China, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing, China

  • Junxiang Chen,

    Roles Formal analysis

    Affiliation Key Laboratory of Forest Genetics & Biotechnology of Ministry of Education, Co-Innovation Center for Sustainable Forestry in Southern China, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing, China

  • Lijuan Zhao

    Roles Investigation

    Affiliation Key Laboratory of Forest Genetics & Biotechnology of Ministry of Education, Co-Innovation Center for Sustainable Forestry in Southern China, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing, China


Marssonina coronaria Ellis & Davis is a filamentous fungus in the class Leotiomycetes that causes apple blotch, an economically important disease of apples worldwide. Here, we sequenced the whole genome of M. coronaria strain NL1. The genome contained 50.3 Mb with 589 scaffolds and 9,622 protein-coding genes. A phylogenetic analysis using multiple loci and a whole-genome alignment revealed that M. coronaria is closely related to Marssonina rosae and Marssonina brunnea. A comparison of the three genomes revealed 90 species-specific carbohydrate-active enzymes, 19 of which showed atypical distributions, and 12 species-specific secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters, two of which have the potential to synthesize products analogous to PR toxin and swainsonine, respectively. We identified 796 genes encoding for small secreted proteins in Marssonina spp., many encoding for unknown hypothetical proteins. In addition, we revealed the genetic architecture of the MAT1-1 and MAT1-2 mating-type loci of M. coronaria, as well as 16 tested isolates carrying either MAT1-1 idiomorph (3) or MAT1-2 idiomorph (13). Our results showed a series of species-specific carbohydrate-active enzyme, secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters and small-secreted proteins that may be involved in the adaptation of Marssonina spp. to their distinct hosts. We also confirmed that M. coronaria possesses a heterothallic mating system and has outcrossing potential in nature.


The fungus Marssonina coronaria Ellis & Davis (Leotiomycetes, Ascomycota) is the causal agent of apple blotch, which is a widespread and devastating disease of apples (Malus × domestica Borkh) [1]. This fungus was first reported on wild crabapple in the USA in 1902 [2], and to date, apple blotch has been widely recorded in Asia [3], Europe [4] and both North and South America [5, 6]. In the apple-growing region of China, apple blotch causes 50%–90% defoliation in most orchards during epidemic years [7, 8]. In addition, apple blotch is intractable because the recent increase in the organic farming of apples worldwide requires the limited application of fungicides [9]. Additionally, the emergence of new fungicide-resistant strains in traditional apple-production areas [10] and the lack of stable resistant cultivars [9, 1114] have led to difficulty in resistance breeding.

Marssonina coronaria primarily infects apple leaves, resulting in a blotchy symptom, which is characterized by 3–10 mm diameter dark brown leaf spots. Occasionally, M. coronaria infections lead to brown depressed spots on fruit surfaces. Severe infections often lead to the chlorosis and defoliation of infested leaves, resulting in reflowering after autumn, which decreases tree vigor and fruit yield [15, 16]. Marssonina coronaria invades foliar tissues owing to its hemibiotrophic lifestyle. In the early stage, intercellular hyphae and haustoria develop, and the host cell membrane remains intact. The intracellular hyphae break the host cells’ membranes at approximately 5 days after inoculation, marking the transition to the necrotrophic stage [17]. In addition, the teleomorphic stage (Diplocarpon mali) of M. coronaria may be essential for completing the disease cycle, because the ascospores of the apothecia from overwintered apple leaves are likely to form the primary inoculum [3, 18]. However, the sexual stage of M. coronaria has rarely been observed, and its mating system is completely unknown.

The fungal genus Marssonina comprises approximately 20 species, which are pathogens of many plants, and most have a hemibiotrophic life style [19, 20]. The genomes of Marssonina brunnea f. sp. multigermtubi (hereafter M. brunnea) and Diplocarpon rosae (anamorph, Marssonina rosae) (hereafter M. rosae), the causal agents of poplar and rose black spot diseases, respectively, have been sequenced [21, 22]. This study aimed to present the genome sequences and annotations of M. coronaria, identify species-specific carbohydrate-active enzyme (CAZymes), secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters (SM-BGCs) and small-secreted proteins (SSPs) by comparing Marssonina spp. genomes, and describe the genetic architecture of mating-type (MAT) loci in M. coronaria.

Materials and methods

Isolation, growth conditions and genomic DNA preparation

Marssonina coronaria was isolated from an apple blotch–infected leaf of a 10-year-old tree (Malus domestica Borkh. cv. Red Fuji) in June 2015 at the Nanjing Forestry University campus, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China (Fig 1A). Infected leaves were surface-sterilized with 0.1% mercuric chloride and washed with sterile distilled water. The leaves were cut into approximately 5-mm segments that were placed on potato dextrose agar (PDA) medium at 25°C. After 20 days, colonies with asexual conidia developed on the edge of the leaf disk (Fig 1B). Then, single spores were picked onto an agar plate under a microscope. The DNA of a strain NL1 obtained by single spore isolation was extracted using a DNAsecure Plant Kit (Tiangen, Beijing, China) for genomic sequencing. In addition, 15 strains, YL1–15, of M. coronaria were isolated using the same method from an apple tree in Yangling, Shaanxi Province, China. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) regions of strain NL1 and YL1 were amplified by ITS1 and ITS4 primers (S1 Table) [23], sequenced and analyzed by phylogenetic tree (see below).

Fig 1. Isolation of M. coronaria and a phylogenetic analysis using ITS sequences.

(A) Disease symptoms of apple blotch in the field. (B) Conidia of M. coronaria NL1. Bar, 10 μm. (C) Phylogenetic analysis using ITS sequences of M. coronaria, M. rosae, M. brunnea, B. cinerea and S. sclerotiorum available in GenBank. The tree was constructed using the maximum likelihood method and tested by 1000 bootstrap replicates. The clade of B. cinerea and S. sclerotiorum was selected as an out-group. The M. coronaria NL1 and YL1 strains are indicated in red. GenBank accession numbers were underlined. Strains/isolates with limited polymorphisms are indicated in light green. The alignment and tree were deposited in Treebase (accession number S27522).

Genome sequencing, assembly and annotation

Genomic DNA from M. coronaria NL1 was sequenced using Illumina HiSeq 2500 platform with 125 bp paired-end reads. The sequencing generated more than 42 million paired-end reads, totaling 6.3 Gb. The raw reads were cleaned by removing the adapter sequences, low-quality sequences (more than 15% bases having a Phred Quality Score under 19), and any reads with more than 5% unknown sequences, designated as “N.” These cleaned reads were assembled using SOAPdenovo v.2.0 [24]. GC content was calculated as the percentage of G and C bases in the total base. RepeatMasker v4.0.5 ( with RMBlastn v2.2.27+ was used to mask the repeats in the genome sequence. Genome annotations were performed using GeneMark-ES with the following parameters:—ES (self‐training),—fungus,—max_intron 3000,—min_gene_prediction 120 [25] and FGENESH with gene models of M. brunnea [26]. rRNA and tRNA genes were detected using RNAmmer v1.2 [27] and tRNAScan-SEv1.4 [28], respectively. The completeness of the assembled genome was assessed using BUSCO v3 against the eukaryote_odb9 and fungi_odb9 dataset [29]. The draft assembly and annotation of M. coronaria was deposited in GenBank under the accession number MZNU00000000.1 (BioProject: PRJNA376855; BioSample: SAMN06564146).

Phylogenetic and polymorphic analyses

Maximum-likelihood trees were constructed for swainsonine synthetases (SwnKs) using MEGA 7.0 [30] with a Jones–Taylor–Thornton model that included all the sites and 1000 bootstrap replicates. The SwnK dataset included the BLASTp hits (E-value = 0 and identity ≥ 50%). A phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequences of ITS and multiple loci were conducted using the maximum-likelihood method with the Tamura–Nei model that included all the sites and 1000 bootstrap replicates. The ITS sequences of isolates/strains of M. coronaria, M. rosae, M. brunnea, Botrytis cinerea, and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum were obtained from GenBank. The clade of Botrytis cinerea and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum sequences was selected as an out-group. The DNA sequences of nuclear ribosomal ITS, elongation factor 1-α (EF1-α), glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (G3PDH), heat-shock protein 60 (HSP60) and DNA-dependent RNA polymerase subunit II (RPB2) were obtained from the genome of M. coronaria NL1, 13 published genomes of Helotiales fungi and Blumeria graminis f. sp. hordei DH14 of Erysiphales [21, 22, 3142] and by homologous cloning from M. coronaria YL1 (S1 Table). The concatenated DNA sequences of ITS, EF1-α, G3PDH, HSP60 and RPB2 were used to construct the phylogenetic tree. The B. graminis f. sp. hordei DH14 sequences were selected as an out-group for multiple loci phylogenetic analysis. The polymorphic sites and indel sites were analyzed using DNAsp 6 [43].

Whole-genome synteny comparisons

Whole-genome alignments between the genome of M. coronaria and those of other Helotiales fungi were performed and visualized using SynMap (CoGe; with BLASTn (E-value ≤ 0.0001) and the quota-align-merge algorithm.

Identification of CAZymes, secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters and small secreted proteins

The annotated proteins of M. coronaria, M. brunnea and M. rosae were screened for carbohydrate-active modules using the carbohydrate-active enzyme annotation (dbCAN2) [44]. CAZymes that were only identified by DIAMOND or Hotpep tools were further confirmed using the InterProScan web server [45]. Since not all CAzymes were secreted out the cell, the putative secreted CAZymes were further identified by SignalP [46] and SecretomeP [47]. A neural network score of ≥ 0.6 in SecretomeP was used as a threshold. The secondary metabolite biosynthetic gene clusters were identified by antiSMASH [48].

The SSPs were identified on the basis of the following criteria: (1) possessing a typical signal peptide predicted by Signalp5.0 [46]; (2) lacking transmembrane helices in mature proteins predicted by TMHMM [49]; (3) no other subcellular localization (i.e. mitochondria and chloroplast), predicted by TargetP (; and (4) ≤ 250 amino acids in length. The M. rosae genomic content was duplicated, which led to a duplication of many proteins [22]. Thus, two SSPs with continuous identical amino acid lengths ≥ 15 were screened out as one pair of duplicated proteins. Then these pairs were further confirmed by local alignments of their corresponding genomic DNA sequences with EMBOSS Water (

Identification of species-specific CAzymes and SSPs

The species-specific CAZymes and SSPs were identified on the basis of the following criteria: (1) no ortholog in the other two Marssonina species was found using the reciprocal best hits (RBH) BLAST method; and (2) the best hits of BLASTp in the other two Marssonina species possessed identities < 50%.

Cloning the MAT1-2 locus and idiomorph-specific PCR

A DNA fragment of M. coronaria MAT1-2-1 was amplified from strain YL7 using one pair of degenerate primers. The flanking sequences of M. coronaria MAT1-2-1 were amplified with primers designed from a MAT1-2-1 fragment and AP endonuclease (APN2) and cytoskeleton assembly control protein (SLA2) genes (S1 Table). The PCR products were ligated into the pEASY-Blunt Zero vector (Beijing TransGen Biotech Co., Ltd.) for Sanger sequencing. Idiomorph-specific PCR was conducted with primers designed on the basis of the M. coronaria MAT1-1 and MAT1-2 idiomorph sequences (S1 Table).

Results and discussion

The isolation and identification of M. coronaria NL1

The strains isolated from lesions of apple leaves (Fig 1A and 1B) were identified by BLAST searching ITS sequences in GenBank. Information showed that NL1 and YL1 had high identities with other reported M. coronaria stains (98%–100%). A phylogenetic analysis using the ITS sequences of M. coronaria available in GenBank showed that NL1 and YL1 were confined to the M. coronaria clade with high bootstrap support (Fig 1C). Of note, the polymorphic sites in the ITS from M. coronaria were limited. For example, among 18 strains in the main clade of M. coronaria, only two DNA polymorphic sites and three indels were observed.

The draft genome of M. coronaria NL1

Marssonina coronaria NL1 was sequenced to generate a draft genome. In total, 50.3 Mbp were assembled into 589 scaffolds having a GC content of 43.96% (Table 1), which were similar to those of M. brunnea (52 Mb and 42.71%, respectively) [21] and smaller than those of the duplicated M. rosae genome (66.6 Mb and 47.64%, respectively)[22]. The largest scaffold was 1,297,304 bp, and the N50 value was 231,377 bp. The genome coverage was estimated to be 108.78× by comparing the total sequenced nucleotides to the assembled genome size. The completeness of the M. coronaria genome was estimated to be 97.7% (296/303) and 99% (287/290) when comparing with single-copy orthologs in the BUSCO eukaryotic and fungal datasets, respectively. In total, 9,355 protein-coding, 136 tRNA and 19 rRNA genes were predicted from a masked genome (masking 143,917 bp simple repeats and 6,869 bp low complexity regions).

Table 1. Summary statistics of the M. coronaria NL1 genome assembly.

Phylogeny and polymorphism analyses

To better understand the evolutionary relationships among species within the order Helotiales, phylogenetic analysis was performed using multiloci DNA sequences (ITS, EF1-α, G3PDH, HSP60 and RPB2) of 15 Helotiales fungi and B. graminis f. sp. hordei of Erysiphales (S2 Table), and whole-genome alignments between M. coronaria and its relatives were conducted. As shown in Fig 2, three Marssonina species, M. coronaria, M. rosae and M. brunnea, formed a clade with a high bootstrap support, in which M. coronaria and M. rosae had the closest relationship with 33.76 Mb of aligned sequences. In contrast, M. coronaria and M. brunnea were less closely related, with 8.82 Mb of aligned sequences. Cadophora sp. and Rhynchosporium commune were clustered with Marssonina spp., and 9.03 Mb and 7.25 Mb of the genomic contents, respectively, were aligned to the genome of M. coronaria. Other Helotiales fungi were in distinct clades and more divergent compared with the M. coronaria genome (from 6.67 Mb to 2.35 Mb). We also generated EF1-α, G3PDH, HSP60 and RPB2 sequences of YL1 by homologous cloning (Accession No. MT674914–MT674917). In the 8,797-nt sequence of the four protein-encoding genes of NL1 and YL1, 22 DNA polymorphisms and 3 indel polymorphisms were detected, indicating that extensive genetic divergences existed in the two M. coronaria strains that were from different geographical regions but possessed closely related ITS sequences.

Fig 2. Phylogenetic relationship of 15 fungi in the order Helotiales.

The tree was constructed using the maximum-likelihood method based on concatenated DNA sequences of ITS, EF1-α, G3PDH, HSP60 and RPB2. The inferred phylogenies were tested using 1000 bootstrap replicates. The B. graminis f. sp. hordei DH14 of Erysiphales was selected as an out-group. The length of the genome aligned to the M. coronaria genome and the average identity of aligned fragments were noted next to each species. The alignment and tree were deposited in Treebase (accession number S27526).

The species-specific carbohydrate-active enzymes among Marssonina spp.

To successfully colonize host tissues, phytopathogenic fungi rely on many CAZymes that degrade the polysaccharide barriers of plant cell walls and acquire nutrients [50]. In total, 470, 507 and 762 proteins were identified as CAZymes in M. coronaria, M. brunnea and M. rosae, respectively. A recent comparative survey of multiple fungal genomes revealed that the necrotrophic and hemibiotrophic fungi commonly tend to have more plant cell wall-degrading enzymes than biotrophic fungi [50]. The numbers of CAZymes in the Marssonina spp. were greater than in most of the surveyed biotrophic fungi and similar to those of hemibiotrophic fungi (S3 Table). In M. coronaria, M. brunnea and M. rosae, the majority of CAZymes, 61.5% (289/470), 60.4% (306/507) and 61.9% (472/762), respectively, were predicted to function in secretion. Therefore, Marssonina spp. have large reservoirs of CAZymes that are secreted into the extracellular space and have the potential to degrade encountered plant cell walls. Compared with a phytopathogenic fungal CAZyme dataset [50], the Marssonina spp. possessed higher numbers of polysaccharide lyases (PLs) (Fig 3), which indicated the expansion of pectin lyases and pectate lyases (PL1s) and pectate lyases (PL3s). A similar expansion of PLs was also observed in vascular wilt and root pathogens, such as Verticillium spp., Nectria haematococca and Fusarium spp. (Fig 3) [50], implying a potential requirement of attacking vascular-rich tissues during the infection of Marssonina spp.

Fig 3. Distribution of Polysaccharide Lyases (PLs) in plant pathogenic fungi.

The numbers of PLs (y-axis left) from different subfamilies are represented in the stacked bar charts and the percentages of PLs in total CAZymes (y-axis right) are represented in the line charts. Other PLs included PL4, -5, -7–12, -14, -15, -17, -20–22, -26, -27, -29, -35 and -36.

On the basis of the orthologous analysis using the RBH (no orthologs) method and the BLASTp-based (<50%) identities among Marssonina spp., 90 species-specific CAZymes were identified (24 of M. coronaria, 59 of M. brunnea and 7 of M. rosae) (S4 Table). Furthermore, we found that close homologs of 19 species-specific CAZymes were rare in Leotiomycetes, but were common in other taxa, i.e. among the top 10 best BLASTp hits against the NCBI NR database, less than three hits were from Leotiomycetes (Table 2).

Table 2. Atypically distributed CAZymes of M. coronaria, M. brunnea and M. rosae.

The secondary metabolism in the Marssonina spp.

Phytopathogenic fungi utilize different secondary metabolites as toxins against hosts, mediators for communication, and inhibitors to defeat other competitors. There are four major secondary metabolites in fungi, polyketides, non-ribosomal peptides, cyclic terpenes and tryptophan-derived indole alkaloids, which are synthesized by four central enzymes, polyketide synthase (PKS), non-ribosomal peptide synthase (NRPS), terpene cyclase (TC) and dimethylallyl tryptophane synthase (DMATS), respectively. The genes encoding core synthases and proteins involved in the modification, transportation and regulation of secondary metabolites are often located in single gene clusters on chromosomes, forming a SM-BGC [53, 54].

In total, nine PKS (PKS1–9), three hybrid PKS-NRPS (PKS-NRPS1–3), eight NRPS and eight TC (TC1–8) SM-BGCs were identified in the three Marssonina spp. genomes (S5 Table). DMATS clusters were lacking in Marssonina spp. Marssonina coronaria and M. brunnea contained two DHN melanin BGCs (PKS2 and PKS7), and M. rosae contained two pairs owing to a genomic duplication, and they were closely related to the BGCs of Botrytis cinerea (BcPKS12 and BcPKS13) [55]. In addition, the BGC of PKS-NRPS2 in Marssonina spp. shared two orthologous genes (fus1 and fus2) with the fusarin C BGC of Fusarium fujikuroi [56] (S6 Table).

In total, 12 SM-BGCs were species-specific among the Marssonina spp., and the core synthases of 5 SM-BGCs (PKS9, PKS-NRPS1, PKS-NRPS3, TC1 and TC5) were also rare in their Leotiomycetes relatives (Table 3). For example, the M. brunnea-specific TC1 SM-BGC has a high similarity with the PR toxin BGC of Penicillium chrysogenum (six orthologous genes with 81%–90% identity levels) (S6 Table) [57]; however, among other Leotiomycetes relatives, only Hypoxylon sp. CI-4A had two orthologs that have low identity levels (55%–63%).

Table 3. Summary of the species-specific core synthases of the SM-BGCs.

A BLAST search against the NCBI NR database revealed that the M. coronaria-specific PKS-NRPS3 was closely related to SwnK. Swainsonine is a neurotoxic alkaloid produced by several animal and plant pathogenic fungi [58]. A phylogenetic analysis revealed that the homologs of PKS-NRPS3 have a patchy distribution, in which fungal proteins from distinct taxa constituted highly supported clades (Fig 4A, S7 Table). One clade included the SwnK of Metarhizium robertsii that were required for swainsonine biosynthesis and the SwnKs from 11 swainsonine-producing fungi [58]. In contrast, another clade containing two subclades (SwnK-like1 and -like2) did not have any member supported by experimental evidence. The M. coronaria-specific PKS-NRPS3 belonged to the SwnK-like2 subclade. There were seven swainsonine BGCs in the Metarhizium spp., SwnK, SwnH1, SwnH2, SwnN, SwnR, SwnT and SwnA. SwnN and SwnH also existed in the flanking region of SwnK-like1, but no synteny was observed between the flanking region of SwnK-like2 and SwnK (Fig 4B). SwnK, SwnK-like1 and SwnK-like2 share the same catalytic domain architecture, including adenylylation (A), phosphopantetheine-binding/thiolation (T), b-ketoacyl synthase (KS), acyltransferase (AT), reductase (SDR), and thioester reductase (SDR e1) domains (Fig 4C). SwnK catalyzed pipecolic acid and malonyl-CoA to form a heterocyclic intermediate of swainsonine [59]. Therefore, SwnK-like1 and -like2 have the potential to mediate reactions similar to those of SwnK that are involved in the synthesis of analogous derivatives of indolizidine alkaloids.

Fig 4. The swainsonine BGCs and their close homologs.

(A) Phylogenetic analysis of the core synthases SwnK and SwnK-like proteins. The tree was constructed using the maximum-likelihood method, and the inferred phylogenies were tested using 1000 bootstrap replicates. The branches of different taxonomic classes are represented by distinct colors. The alignment and tree were deposited in Treebase (accession number S27543). (B) Organization of the swainsonine and homologous BGCs. Boxes represent the coding regions of the predicted genes interrupted by introns. Arrows indicate the orientations of the coding sequences. (C) Predicted functions of SwnKs.

Amount of small secreted proteins of Marssonina spp. were novel proteins

Marssonina coronaria, M. brunnea and M. rosae are hemibiotrophic pathogens, which feed on living plant cells and maintain host cell viability during the early infection stages [17, 60, 61]. Hemibiotrophs rely on effectors to suppress the plant immune system and reprogram the infected tissue [62]. In accordance with the features of known effectors, candidates should be small, secreted proteins (SSPs), and many show no obvious homology to known proteins [63]. We previously reported a large expansion of the SSPs of LysM effectors (24 members) and IGY proteins (107 members) in M. brunnea [61, 64]. However, using a recursive BLAST search, we found no such expansion of LysM SSPs, and no IGY motifs in M. coronaria and M. rosae annotated proteins.

In total, 6.63% (620/9355), 6.73% (927/13761) and 8% (802/10027) proteins of M. coronaria, M. rosae and M. brunnea proteomes were predicted as secreted proteins, in which 187, 285 and 324 proteins with less than or equal to 250 amino acids were considered to be SSPs. More half of the SSPs (50.3%, 65.3% and 51.5% in M. coronaria, M. rosae and M. brunnea) were cysteine-rich proteins (≥ 4 cysteine residues). M. rosae contained 58 SSP pairs owing to a genomic duplication. There were 41 common SSP orthologs shared in the three Marssonina spp., while 83, 92 and 226 SSPs of M. coronaria, M. rosae and M. brunnea, respectively, had no orthologs and no homologs with ≥ 50% identities in the other two relatives. These were referred to as species-specific SSPs (Fig 5A; S8S10 Tables). Furthermore, a BLASTp search against the NCBI NR database revealed that amount of species-specific SSPs were unique in the NR database (55 of 83 in M. coronaria, 90 of 92 in M. rosae and 84 of 226 in M. brunnea). The best hits of more than half of the M. brunnea-specific SSPs (127 of 226) belonged to taxa other than Leotiomycetes, while, in contrast, the best hits of most M. coronaria- and M. rosae-specific SSPs were in Leotiomycetes relatives (Fig 5B; S8S10 Tables).

Fig 5. The small secreted proteins of Marssonina spp.

(A) Venn diagram displaying species-specific and shared SSPs in three Marssonina spp. The shared sets were orthologs confirmed using the RBH BLAST method, and the species-specific SSPs were SSPs without orthologs, which was confirmed using the RBH BLAST method, and lacking highly identical homologs (≥ 50% identity). (B) The taxa distribution of the best hits of species-specific SSPs. The analysis was based on BLASTp searches against the NCBI NR database.

Mating system

In the Ascomycota fungi, most sexual reproduction is controlled by a single genetic locus, the MAT locus, which has alternative forms (idiomorphs) with highly divergent sequences, MAT1-1 and MAT1-2. MAT1-1 is characterized by the MAT1-1-1 gene that encodes an alpha-box protein, and MAT1-2 typically carries the MAT1-2-1 gene encoding a high mobility group (HMG) motif-containing protein. Both MAT1-1 and MAT1-2 are generally flanked by the APN2 and SLA2 genes. Strains of heterothallic fungi containing one locus can mate with strains carrying the opposite locus. In contrast, homothallic fungi often contain both MAT1-1-1 and MAT1-2-1 genes within a single strain, which enables self-crossing [65].

The genome of M. coronaria NL1 possesses a single MAT1-1 locus between APN2 and SLA2 (Accession No. MT819950) (Fig 6A). Five genes were predicted from this region, MAT1-1-1, MAT1-1-3, MAT1-1-5 and two hypothetical protein genes (HP1 and HP2). In addition to HP1 and HP2, the architecture of the MAT1-1 locus of M. coronaria is identical to that of the closely related R. commune [32]. HP1 and HP2 are completely unique to M. coronaria and lack homologs (E-value ≤ 10) in the NR database of NCBI. The long-range amplification with primers designed to the flanking APN2 and SLA2 genes revealed the genetic structure of the MAT1-2 locus (Accession No. MT819951) in the isolate YL7 (Fig 6A). MAT1-2-1, another hypothetical protein gene (HP3), truncated MAT1-1-1 (679 bp, 99% identity), and nearly identical HP1 and HP2 genes were predicted in this region of YL1. HP3 had homologs in M. brunnea and Rhynchosporium agropyri that were also proximal to MAT1-2-1. Truncated MAT1-1-1 fragments were detected in the MAT1-1 locus of the Helotiales fungi B. cinerea [66], R. agropyri [32] and Monilinia spp. [67], and they were presumed to be the products of evolution from the homothallic MAT1 locus to heterothallic locus through multiple recombination and deletion events. A comparison of the two MAT1 loci of M. coronaria revealed that the sizes of the idiomorphs were 3,618 bp (MAT1-1) and 2,955 bp (MAT1-2). Amplification with idiomorph-specific primers revealed that single isolates only carry one of the two opposite idiomorphs (Fig 6B and 6C), implying a heterothallic system in M. coronaria.

Fig 6. The mating-type loci and detection of mating types of M. coronaria.

(A) Structures of the MAT1-1 and MAT1-2 loci. Solid boxes represent the coding regions of the predicted genes interrupted by introns. Black arrows indicate the orientations of the coding sequences. Dotted lines mark the sizes of the unique sequences of the idiomorphs. Red arrows indicate idiomorph-specific primers. (B,C) Detection of MAT1-1, product size 468 bp (B) and MAT1-2, product size 476 bp (C) with idiomorph-specific primers. M, DNA ladder; lanes 1–16, sixteen M. coronaria isolates, NL1 and YL1–15.


Marssonina brunnea, M. rosae and M. coronaria are three of the most widespread and destructive phytopathogens in Marssonina. The genomes of the first two fungi have been reported, and here, we provide the genome sequence of M. coronaria. A comparison of the three Marssonina genomes revealed species-specific proteins, some of which had either atypical (19 CAZymes, proteins in 5 SM-BGCs), or unique (229 SSPs) distributions. These phenomena likely resulted from dynamic gene duplication and loss, horizontal gene transfer or strong diverse selection. These evolutionary forces are often closely related to environmental adaptation. Therefore, the species-specific proteins discovered in this study may serve as keys to understanding the specific interactions between Marssonina spp. and their hosts, as well as their adaptation in distinct ecological niches.

Outcrossing pathogens may have higher evolutionary potential to overcome plant resistance strategies than asexual pathogens. Here, we revealed the unique architecture of the MAT1 locus of M. coronaria, in which two M. coronaria-specific hypothetical protein genes (HP1 and HP2) flanked the idiomorphs. We also confirmed the heterothallic system in isolates from Yangling and Nanjing City, China that exclusively carry either the MAT1-1 or MAT1-2 locus. Therefore, M. coronaria possesses the genetic potential to outcross, which may lead to altered pathogenicity through the recombination of virulence-related genes.

Supporting information

S1 Raw images. Whole gel photos.

(A) Whole gel photo for Fig 6B. (B) Whole gel photo for Fig 6C. The gels were photographed by GelDoc XR (Bio-Rad, Germany).


S1 Table. Primers used for gene cloning and idiomorph-specific PCR.


S2 Table. The phylogenetic sequence of 15 Helotiales fungi and Blumeria graminis f. sp. hordei DH14.


S3 Table. The summary of CAZymes of thirty-six phytopathogenic fungi.


S4 Table. Species-specific CAZymes of M. coronaria, M. brunnea and M. rosae.


S5 Table. The summary of core synthases of secondary metabolism in Marssonina spp.


S6 Table. DHN melanin, Fusarin and PR toxin BGCs in Marssonina spp.


S7 Table. The summary of homologs of PKS-NRPS3 of M. coronaria used in phylogenetic analysis.


S8 Table. The summary of the small secreted proteins of Marssonina coronaria.


S9 Table. The summary of the small secreted proteins of Marssonina brunnea.


S10 Table. The summary of the small secreted proteins of Marssonina rosae.



We would like to thank Dr. Qin Xiong for her time and suggestion.


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