Department of Energy-Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing 48824, U.S.A.
The fungal maize pathogen Cochliobolus carbonum produces a phytotoxic and cytostatic cyclic peptide, HC-toxin, of structure cyclo(D-prolyl-L-alanyl-D-alanyl-L-Aeo), in which Aeo stands for 2-amino-9,10-epoxi-8-oxodecanoic acid. Here we report the isolation of a gene, TOXC, that is present only in HC-toxin-producing (Tox2+) fungal strains. TOXC is present in most Tox2+ strains in three functional copies, all of which are on the same chromosome as the gene encoding HC-toxin synthetase. When all copies of TOXC are mutated by targeted gene disruption, the fungus grows and sporulates normally in vitro but no longer makes HC-toxin and is not pathogenic, indicating that TOXC has a specific role in HC-toxin production and hence virulence. The TOXC mRNA is 6.5 kb and the predicted product has 2,080 amino acids and a molecular weight of 233,000. The primary amino acid sequence is highly similar (45 to 47% identity) to the β subunit of fatty acid synthase from several lower eukaryotes, and contains, in the same order as in other β subunits, domains predicted to encode acetyl transferase, enoyl reductase, dehydratase, and malonyl-palmityl transferase. The most plausible function of TOXC is to contribute to the synthesis of the decanoic acid backbone of Aeo.