Puccinia monoica is a spectacular plant parasitic rust fungus that triggers the formation of flower-like structures (pseudoflowers) in its Brassicaceae host plant Boechera stricta. Pseudoflowers mimic in shape, color, nectar and scent co-occurring and unrelated flowers such as buttercups. They act to attract insects thereby aiding spore dispersal and sexual reproduction of the rust fungus. Although much ecological research has been performed on P.monoica-induced pseudoflowers, this system has yet to be investigated at the molecular or genomic level. To date, the molecular alterations underlying the development of pseudoflowers and the genes involved have not been described. To address this, we performed gene expression profiling to reveal 256 plant biological processes that are significantly altered in pseudoflowers. Among these biological processes, plant genes involved in cell fate specification, regulation of transcription, reproduction, floral organ development, anthocyanin (major floral pigments) and terpenoid biosynthesis (major floral volatile compounds) were down-regulated in pseudoflowers. In contrast, plant genes involved in shoot, cotyledon and leaf development, carbohydrate transport, wax biosynthesis, cutin transport and L-phenylalanine metabolism (pathway that results in phenylethanol and phenylacetaldehyde volatile production) were up-regulated. These findings point to an extensive reprogramming of host genes by the rust pathogen to induce floral mimicry. We also highlight 31 differentially regulated plant genes that are enriched in the biological processes mentioned above, and are potentially involved in the formation of pseudoflowers. This work illustrates the complex perturbations induced by rust pathogens in their host plants, and provides a starting point for understanding the molecular mechanisms of pathogen-induced floral mimicry.
Via Kamoun Lab @ TSL