We have used the naturally occurring plant-parasite system of Arabidopsis thaliana and its common parasite Peronospora parasitica (downy mildew) to study the evolution of resistance specificity in the host population. DNA sequence of the resistance gene, RPP13, from 24 accessions, including 20 from the United Kingdom, revealed amino acid sequence diversity higher than that of any protein coding gene reported so far in A. thaliana. A significant excess of amino acid polymorphism segregating within this species is localized within the leucine-rich repeat (LRR) domain of RPP13. These results indicate that single alleles of the gene have not swept through the population, but instead, a diverse collection of alleles have been maintained. Transgenic complementation experiments demonstrate functional differences among alleles in their resistance to various pathogen isolates, suggesting that the extreme amino acid polymorphism in RPP13 is maintained through continual reciprocal selection between host and pathogen.
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