Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) Mapping Reveals a Role for Unstudied Genes in Aspergillus Virulence

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Infections caused by the fungus Aspergillus are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in immunocompromised populations. To identify genes required for virulence that could be used as targets for novel treatments, we mapped quantitative trait loci (QTL) affecting virulence in the progeny of a cross between two strains of A. nidulans (FGSC strains A4 and A91). We genotyped 61 progeny at 739 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) spread throughout the genome, and constructed a linkage map that was largely consistent with the genomic sequence, with the exception of one potential inversion of ~527 kb on Chromosome V. The estimated genome size was 3705 cM and the average intermarker spacing was 5.0 cM. The average ratio of physical distance to genetic distance was 8.1 kb/cM, which is similar to previous estimates, and variation in recombination rate was significantly positively correlated with GC content, a pattern seen in other taxa. To map QTL affecting virulence, we measured the ability of each progeny strain to kill model hosts, larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella. We detected three QTL affecting in vivo virulence that were distinct from QTL affecting in vitro growth, and mapped the virulence QTL to regions containing 7–24 genes, excluding genes with no sequence variation between the parental strains and genes with only synonymous SNPs. None of the genes in our QTL target regions have been previously associated with virulence in Aspergillus, and almost half of these genes are currently annotated as “hypothetical”. This study is the first to map QTL affecting the virulence of a fungal pathogen in an animal host, and our results illustrate the power of this approach to identify a short list of unknown genes for further investigation.
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Christians JK, Cheema MS, Vergara IA, Watt CA, Pinto LJ, et al. (2011) Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) Mapping Reveals a Role for Unstudied Genes in Aspergillus Virulence. PLoS ONE 6(4): e19325. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019325
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Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) Mapping Reveals a Role for Unstudied Genes in Aspergillus Virulence
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