Fungi have found that they regulate plant host gene expression through the use of miRNAs.

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A team of researchers from Australia, the United States and France has reported evidence of a fungus that regulates the host gene expression of a plant using miRNA. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes the use of data RNA sequencing and in situ miRNA detection to learn more about the symbiotic relationship between the root fungus Pisolithus microcarpus and eucalyptus trees.

Previous research has shown that there are symbiotic relationships between organisms such as bacteria and animals or fungi and plants. And some microbes are able to transfer small RNA or microparticles (miRNAs) to host plants to help the microbes tolerate infection. In this new effort, the researchers found an example of such transmission that benefits both the phugus and its host.

The researchers focused their work on a type of fungus known to infect plant roots. In this case, they wanted to learn more about such an infection in eucalyptus trees. To this end, they performed RNA sequencing on both fungi and infected trees, and also looked for cases of in situ RNA transfer. They found that the fungus did indeed transfer some of its RNA molecules to the tree roots. As a result of this transfer, the fungus was able to keep the trees infested—but more importantly, such infections actually helped the trees improve their performance at acquiring soil nutrients. They found that trees that had been removed from the fungal infection had more difficulty pulling nutrients from the soil than those infected. They also found that if they added more fungi to already infected trees, the tree roots performed better than those that were naturally infected.

A closer look at tree root tissues found that the fungus induced changes in the tree’s genes that were encoded for expression of the nucleotide-binding domain and leucine-rich repeat proteins, improving the immune response and promoting health by improving soil nutrient processing. They concluded that microRNAs could have a significant impact on the exchange between microbes and plants.

Bioenergy Friendly Fungus Engineers Team

more information:
Johanna Wong-Bajracharya et al, The ectomycorrhizal Pisolithus microcarpus microRNA encodes a gene silencing across the kingdom during symbiosis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2103527119

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