The reproductive genes of fungi, like those of many other organisms, are thought to diversify rapidly. This phenomenon could be associated with the formation of reproductive barriers and speciation. Ascomycetes produce two classes of mating type-specific peptide pheromones. These are required for recognition between the mating types of heterothallic species. Little is known regarding the diversity or the extent of species specificity in pheromone peptides among these fungi. We compared the putative protein-coding DNA sequences of the 2 pheromone classes from 70 species of Ascomycetes. The data set included previously described pheromones and putative pheromones identified from genomic sequences. In addition, pheromone genes from 12 Fusarium species in the Gibberella fujikuroi complex were amplified and sequenced. Pheromones were largely conserved among species in this complex and, therefore, cannot alone account for the reproductive barriers observed between these species. In contrast, pheromone peptides were highly diverse among many other Ascomycetes, with evidence for both positive diversifying selection and relaxed selective constraint. Repeats of the α-factor-like pheromone, which occur in tandem arrays of variable copy number, were found to be conserved through purifying selection and not concerted evolution. This implies that sequence specificity may be important for pheromone reception and that interspecific differences may indeed be associated with functional divergence. Our findings also suggest that frequent duplication and loss causes the tandem repeats to experience "birth-and-death" evolution, which could in fact facilitate interspecific divergence of pheromone peptide sequences.
- Gibberella fujikuroi
- pheromone precursor