Find Insights into Pathogen Adaptability

EVANSTON, Illinois: 2Blades and a group of international collaborators have published research on Phakopsora pachyrhizi, the causal agent of Asian soybean rust and one of the most damaging plant pathogens of the past century, in the latest issue of Nature Communications.


In 2019, the group announced the initial successful assembly of the genome of P. pachyrhizi. The current current publication in Nature Communications describes the subsequent  effort to complete the annotation and analyze the genome. A significant challenge with P. pachyrhizi is the presence of two haploid nuclei that are present in each of the infectious spores. This means it possesses two separate sets of genetic instructions. Each had to be separately determined, which was recently made possible by newer, long-read sequencing technology.


“Completing the genome and analysis was a major undertaking that required the combined resources of a unique consortium of public and private partners” stated Dr. Peter van Esse, former 2Blades Group Leader and current Board member. “It is a vital step to better understand this damaging pathogen, which in turn will allow development of innovative strategies to manage this disease in a more effective way.”


The researchers compared sequences of three geographically distinct P. pachyrhizi genomes and found a number of insights into the pathogen’s adaptability and broad host range. One of the most striking discoveries was that 93% of the genome consists of transposable elements (TEs), “jumping” DNA that can move around the genome. Most fungi have 10-40% TEs, and the high percentage in P. pachyrhizi enables greater genetic plasticity. It helps to explain P. pachyrhizi’s adaptability to environmental conditions and a range of hosts, making it a formidable threat.


Asian Soybean Rust is ubiquitously present in the soybean growing areas of Latin America, where 210 million metric tons of soybean are projected to be produced in 2022/23 alone, representing a gross production value of U.S. $ 115 billion per season. The largest producer of the soybean is Brazil, where the cost of managing soybean rust exceeds $2 billion per year and depends heavily on fungicides.


“Asian Soybean Rust has been known to destroy up to 90% of a soybean harvest, costing soybean producers billions of dollars each year. Understanding the pathogen is critical to the development of new control strategies to combat P. pachyrhizi in the field,” says study co-author Yogesh Gupta, Project Leader at 2Blades in The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK.

Gupta continued, “An unexpected finding was the expansion of genes related to amino-acid metabolism and energy production, atypical for a rust fungus. These genes may correlate with infection across many legume species since it may provide flexibility for nutrient acquisition from different hosts.”

The effort behind the project comprised a large and interactive international consortium of research and industry partners, including: 2Blades, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Brazilian Company of Agricultural Research (Embrapa), Pathogen Evolutionary Ecology, National Center for Genome Resources, U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, Federal University of Technology of Paraná (UTFPR), Université de Lorraine, Syngenta Jealott’s Hill Int. Research Centre, AFMB Aix-Marseille University, Biodiversité et Biotechnologie Fongiques (INRAE), King Abdulaziz University, Technical University of Denmark, Bayer SAS, KeyGene N.V., John Innes Centre, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, University of Hohenheim, Syngenta Crop Protection AG, RWTH Aachen University, Syngenta Crop Protection, and the University of California, Berkeley.  


About 2Blades

2Blades is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the discovery, advancement, and delivery of environmentally responsible, long-lasting solutions to crop disease by merging cutting-edge science discovery with delivery in the field. 2Blades establishes and manages development programs addressing significant unsolved crop disease problems in collaboration with leading research institutions around the world and manages a portfolio of specific traits and enabling technologies that it implements in its own programs and out-licenses for broad use. 2Blades is headquartered in Evanston, IL, with research labs in Norwich, UK and St. Paul, MN, and offices in Chapel Hill, NC and Zurich, Switzerland.  


Press Contact:

Wilson Paine

Director of External Affairs