Plant rhizosphere specificity and variability in the insect and plant adhesins, Madl and Mad2, within the genus Metarhizium suggest plant adaptation as an evolutionary force
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Metarhizium is a soil-inhabiting fungus currently used as a biological control agent against various insect species, and research efforts are typically focused on its ability to kill insects. In section 1, we tested the hypothesis that species of Metarhizium are not randomly distributed in soils but show plant rhizosphere-specific associations. Results indicated an association of three Metarhizium species (Metarhizium robertsii, M. brunneum and M. guizhouense) with the rhizosphere of certain types of plant species. M. robertsii was the only species that was found associated with grass roots, suggesting a possible exclusion of M. brunneum and M. guizhouense, which was supported by in vitro experiments with grass root exudate. M. guizhouense and M. brunneum only associated with wildflower rhizosphere when co-occurring with M. robertsii. With the exception of these co-occurrences, M. guizhouense was found to associate exclusively with the rhizosphere of tree species, while M. brunneum was found to associate exclusively with the rhizosphere of shrubs and trees. These associations demonstrate that different species of Metarhizium associate with specific plant types. In section 2, we explored the variation in the insect adhesin, Madl, and the plant adhesin, Mad2, in fourteen isolates of Metarhizium representing seven different species. Analysis of the transcriptional elements within the Mad2 promoter region revealed variable STRE, PDS, degenerative TATA box, and TATA box-like regions. Phylogenetic analysis of 5' EF-Ia, which is used for species identification, as well as Madl and Mad2 sequences demonstrated that the Mad2 phylogeny is more congruent with 5' EF-1a than Madl. This suggests Mad2 has diverged among Metarhizium lineages, contributing to clade- and species-specific variation. While other abiotic and biotic factors cannot be excluded in contributing to divergence, it appears that plant associations have been the driving factor causing divergence among Metarhizium species.