Dynamic virulence-related regions of the plant pathogenic fungus Verticillium dahliae display enhanced sequence conservation.
Plant pathogens continuously evolve to evade host immune responses. During host colonization, many fungal pathogens secrete effectors to perturb such responses, but these in turn may become recognized by host immune receptors. To facilitate the evolution of effector repertoires, such as the elimination of recognized effectors, effector genes often reside in genomic regions that display increased plasticity, a phenomenon that is captured in the two-speed genome hypothesis. The genome of the vascular wilt fungus Verticillium dahliae displays regions with extensive presence/absence polymorphisms, so-called lineage-specific regions, that are enriched in in planta-induced putative effector genes. As expected, comparative genomics reveals differential degrees of sequence divergence between lineage-specific regions and the core genome. Unanticipated, lineage-specific regions display markedly higher sequence conservation in coding as well as noncoding regions than the core genome. We provide evidence that disqualifies horizontal transfer to explain the observed sequence conservation and conclude that sequence divergence occurs at a slower pace in lineage-specific regions of the V. dahliae genome. We hypothesize that differences in chromatin organisation may explain lower nucleotide substitution rates in the plastic, lineage-specific regions of V. dahliae. © 2019 The Authors. Molecular Ecology Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.