Effects of Sublethal Fungicides on Mutation Rates and Genomic Variation in Fungal Plant Pathogen, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum
Pathogen exposure to sublethal doses of fungicides may result in mutations that may represent an important and largely overlooked mechanism of introducing new genetic variation into strictly clonal populations, including acquisition of fungicide resistance. We tested this hypothesis using the clonal plant pathogen, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. Nine susceptible isolates were exposed independently to five commercial fungicides with different modes of action: boscalid (respiration inhibitor), iprodione (unclear mode of action), thiophanate methyl (inhibition of microtubulin synthesis) and azoxystrobin and pyraclostrobin (quinone outside inhibitors). Mycelium of each isolate was inoculated onto a fungicide gradient and sub-cultured from the 50–100% inhibition zone for 12 generations and experiment repeated. Mutational changes were assessed for all isolates at six neutral microsatellite (SSR) loci and for a subset of isolates using amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs). SSR analysis showed 12 of 85 fungicide-exposed isolates had a total of 127 stepwise mutations with 42 insertions and 85 deletions. Most stepwise deletions were in iprodione- and azoxystrobin-exposed isolates (n = 40/85 each). Estimated mutation rates were 1.7 to 60-fold higher for mutated loci compared to that expected under neutral conditions. AFLP genotyping of 33 isolates (16 non-exposed control and 17 fungicide exposed) generated 602 polymorphic alleles. Cluster analysis with principal coordinate analysis (PCoA) and discriminant analysis of principal components (DAPC) identified fungicide-exposed isolates as a distinct group from non-exposed control isolates (PhiPT = 0.15, P = 0.001). Dendrograms based on neighbor-joining also supported allelic variation associated with fungicide-exposure. Fungicide sensitivity of isolates measured throughout both experiments did not show consistent trends. For example, eight isolates exposed to boscalid had higher EC50 values at the end of the experiment, and when repeated, only one isolate had higher EC50 while most isolates showed no difference. Results of this support the hypothesis that sublethal fungicide stress increases mutation rates in a largely clonal plant pathogen under in vitro conditions. Collectively, this work will aid our understanding how non-lethal fungicide exposure may affect genomic variation, which may be an important mechanism of novel trait emergence, adaptation, and evolution for clonal organisms.