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A single laccase acts as a key component of environmental sensing in a broad host range fungal pathogen


Communications Biology volume 7, Article number: 348 (2024) 


Secreted laccases are important enzymes on a broad ecological scale for their role in mediating plant-microbe interactions, but within ascomycete fungi these enzymes have been primarily associated with melanin biosynthesis. In this study, a putatively secreted laccase, Sslac2, was characterized from the broad-host-range plant pathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, which is largely unpigmented and is not dependent on melanogenesis for plant infection. Gene knockouts of Sslac2 demonstrate wide ranging developmental phenotypes and are functionally non-pathogenic. These mutants also displayed indiscriminate growth behaviors and enhanced biomass formation, seemingly as a result of their inability to respond to canonical environmental growth cues, a phenomenon further confirmed through chemical stress, physiological, and transcriptomic analyses. Transmission and scanning electron microscopy demonstrate apparent differences in extracellular matrix structure between WT and mutant strains that likely explain the inability of the mutants to respond to their environment. Targeting Sslac2 using host-induced gene silencing significantly improved resistance to S. sclerotiorum, suggesting that fungal laccases could be a valuable target of disease control. Collectively, we identified a laccase critical to the development and virulence of the broad-host-range pathogen S. sclerotiorum and propose a potentially novel role for fungal laccases in modulating environmental sensing.

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