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PLoS Genet. 2010 Aug 5;6(8). pii: e1001052. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001052.

A deviation from the bipolar-tetrapolar mating paradigm in an early diverged basidiomycete.

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Centro de Recursos Microbiológicos, Departamento de Ciências da Vida, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Caparica, Portugal.


In fungi, sexual identity is determined by specialized genomic regions called MAT loci which are the equivalent to sex chromosomes in some animals and plants. Usually, only two sexes or mating types exist, which are determined by two alternate sets of genes (or alleles) at the MAT locus (bipolar system). However, in the phylum Basidiomycota, a unique tetrapolar system emerged in which four different mating types are generated per meiosis. This occurs because two functionally distinct molecular recognition systems, each encoded by one MAT region, constrain the selection of sexual partners. Heterozygosity at both MAT regions is a pre-requisite for mating in both bipolar and tetrapolar basidiomycetes. Tetrapolar mating behaviour results from the absence of genetic linkage between the two regions bringing forth up to thousands of mating types. The subphylum Pucciniomycotina, an early diverged lineage of basidiomycetes encompassing important plant pathogens such as the rusts and saprobes like Rhodosporidium and Sporidiobolus, has been so far poorly explored concerning the content and organization of MAT loci. Here we show that the red yeast Sporidiobolus salmonicolor has a mating system unlike any previously described because occasional disruptions of the genetic cohesion of the bipolar MAT locus originate new mating types. We confirmed that mating is normally bipolar and that heterozygosity at both MAT regions is required for mating. However, a laboratory cross showed that meiotic recombination may occur within the bipolar MAT locus, explaining tetrapolar features like increased allele number and evolution rates of some MAT genes. This pseudo-bipolar system deviates from the classical bipolar-tetrapolar paradigm and, to our knowledge, has never been observed before. We propose a model for MAT evolution in the Basidiomycota in which the pseudo-bipolar system may represent a hitherto unforeseen gradual form of transition from an ancestral tetrapolar system to bipolarity.

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