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Bekker, Charissa de; Ohm, Robin A.; Evans, Harry C.; Brachmann, Andreas; Hughes, David P. (2017): Ant-infecting Ophiocordyceps genomes reveal a high diversity of potential behavioral manipulation genes and a possible major role for enterotoxins. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, 12508
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Abstract

Much can be gained from revealing the mechanisms fungal entomopathogens employ. Especially intriguing are fungal parasites that manipulate insect behavior because, presumably, they secrete a wealth of bioactive compounds. To gain more insight into their strategies, we compared the genomes of five ant-infecting Ophiocordyceps species from three species complexes. These species were collected across three continents, from five different ant species in which they induce different levels of manipulation. A considerable number of (small) secreted and pathogenicity-related proteins were only found in these ant-manipulating Ophiocordyceps species, and not in other ascomycetes. However, few of those proteins were conserved among them, suggesting that several different methods of behavior modification have evolved. This is further supported by a relatively fast evolution of previously reported candidate manipulation genes associated with biting behavior. Moreover, secondary metabolite clusters, activated during biting behavior, appeared conserved within a species complex, but not beyond. The independent co-evolution between these manipulating parasites and their respective hosts might thus have led to rather diverse strategies to alter behavior. Our data indicate that specialized, secreted enterotoxins may play a major role in one of these strategies.