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Genetic Manipulation of the Plant Pathogen Ustilago maydis to Study Fungal Biology and Plant Microbe Interactions

Published: September 30th, 2016



1Institute for Microbiology, Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf, 2Bioeconomy Science Center (BioSC), 3Department of Genetics, Institute of Applied Biosciences, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 4Cluster of Excellence in Plant Sciences (CEPLAS), Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf
* These authors contributed equally

We describe a robust gene replacement strategy to genetically manipulate the smut fungus Ustilago maydis. This protocol explains how to generate deletion mutants to investigate infection phenotypes. It can be extended to modify genes in any desired way, e.g., by adding a sequence encoding a fluorescent protein tag.

Gene deletion plays an important role in the analysis of gene function. One of the most efficient methods to disrupt genes in a targeted manner is the replacement of the entire gene with a selectable marker via homologous recombination. During homologous recombination, exchange of DNA takes place between sequences with high similarity. Therefore, linear genomic sequences flanking a target gene can be used to specifically direct a selectable marker to the desired integration site. Blunt ends of the deletion construct activate the cell's DNA repair systems and thereby promote integration of the construct either via homologous recombination or by non-homologous-end-joining. In organisms with efficient homologous recombination, the rate of successful gene deletion can reach more than 50% making this strategy a valuable gene disruption system. The smut fungus Ustilago maydis is a eukaryotic model microorganism showing such efficient homologous recombination. Out of its about 6,900 genes, many have been functionally characterized with the help of deletion mutants, and repeated failure of gene replacement attempts points at essential function of the gene. Subsequent characterization of the gene function by tagging with fluorescent markers or mutations of predicted domains also relies on DNA exchange via homologous recombination. Here, we present the U. maydis strain generation strategy in detail using the simplest example, the gene deletion.

Ustilago maydis is a phytopathogenic model fungus that has been studied extensively for decades 1,2. It exists in two morphologies, a yeast-like, non-pathogenic stage and a filamentous, infectious form 3. Universal breakthrough discoveries such as homologous recombination and DNA repair mechanisms were made in the yeast-like growth stage of this fungus 4. Furthermore, the morphological switch to the infectious filament and virulence factors important for infection are well-characterized 5,6. The increasing molecular knowledge about biology and virulence of this smut fungus relies on a straightforward gene replacemen....

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1. Generation of Deletion Constructs

  1. Generate a plasmid containing the deletion construct (Figure 1) comprising a respective 1 kb upstream flank (UF) and downstream flank (DF) each and the appropriate resistance cassette flanked by blunt cutting restriction sites.
    NOTE: Any cloning strategy can be used (for cloning see reference 22) we recommend Golden Gate cloning for such plasmids 9.
  2. Excise the deletion construct from the plasmid using a blunt cutter t.......

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The deletion constructs for all four chitinolytic genes encoded in the U. maydis genome were generated by Golden Gate cloning using the hygR cassette for deletion of cts1, the natR for deletion of cts2, the G418R cassette for deletion of cts3 and the cbxR for deletion of cts4 20. A general overview of the gene replacement strategy is exemplified by the deletion of cts3 (Figure 1

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This protocol describes how to generate deletion mutants for reverse genetic studies in U. maydis. The starting point is a deletion construct that contains flanking sequences of the gene-of-interest containing sequences of about 1 kb upstream of the start and downstream of the stop-codon as well as an appropriate resistance cassette as it was previously optimized 7,9. The constructs have to be individually generated for each gene and carefully verified for sequence errors prior to deleting the gene. P.......

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Special thanks to Dr. Benedikt Steuten for critical reading of the manuscript. The original work on the chitinases was carried out by Dr. Thorsten Langner. The laboratory of VG is supported by the Cluster of Excellence in Plant Sciences (CEPLAS, DFG EXC 1028) and BioSC, the laboratory of KS is supported by BioSC. KB is supported by BioSC. The scientific activities of the Bioeconomy Science Center (BioSC) were financially supported by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research within the framework of the NRW Strategieprojekt BioSC (No. 313/323-400-00213). LF is supported by a doctoral fellowship of the DFG International Research Training Group 1525 iGRADplant.

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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Aminobenzoeic acid (Free Acid) Sigma Aldrich A-9878
Bacto Agar  BD 214010 alternatively use local supplier
Bacto Peptone BD 211677 alternatively use local supplier
Bacto Yeast Extract  BD 212750 alternatively use local supplier
CaCl2*2H2O Grüssing GmbH 10234 alternatively use local supplier
Ca-pantothenat (Hemi-Ca. salt) Sigma Aldrich P-2250
Carboxin  Sigma Aldrich 45371
Casamino acids  BD 223050
Cholinchlorid Sigma Aldrich C-1879
Citric acid ChemSolute 24,321,000 alternatively use local supplier
CuSO4*5H2O Fluka 61240 alternatively use local supplier
D(+)Sucrose  Roth 4621.1 alternatively use local supplier
DNA degr. free acid  Sigma-Aldrich D-3159
EDTA Sigma Aldrich E4378
FeCl3*6H2O Grüssing GmbH 10288 alternatively use local supplier
Geneticin (G418) disulfate salt Sigma Aldrich A1720
Trichoderma lysing enzymes Sigma Aldrich L1412
Glucose Caelo 2580 alternatively use local supplier
Glycerin  Fisher Chemical G065015 alternatively use local supplier
H3BO3 AppliChem A2940 Dangerous substance. Please check manufacturer's safety instructions.
Heparin sodium salt Sigma Aldrich H3393-50KU
Hygromycin B-solution Roth 1287.2 Dangerous substance. 
KCl VWR 26764298 alternatively use local supplier
KH2PO4 AppliChem A3620 alternatively use local supplier
MgSO4 waterfree Merck 7487-88-9 Water free is critical. Alternatively use local supplier
MnCl2*4H2O AppliChem A2087 alternatively use local supplier
myo-Inositol Sigma Aldrich I-5125
Na2-EDTA*2H2O AppliChem A2937 alternatively use local supplier
Na2MoO4*2H2O Roth 0274.2 alternatively use local supplier
Na2SO4 Grüssing GmbH 12174 alternatively use local supplier
NaCl Fisher Chemical S316060 alternatively use local supplier
NaOH ChemSolute 13,751,000 alternatively use local supplier
NH4NO3 Roth K299.1 alternatively use local supplier
Nicotinic acid (Free Acid) Sigma Aldrich N-4126
Nourseothricin dihydrogen sulfate   Werner BioAgents 5,001,000
Nutrient broth  Difco local suppliers
Phenol:Chloroform:Isoamyl Alcohol (25:24:1) pH 6.7 Sigma Aldrich P3803 Dangerous substance. Please check manufacturer's safety instructions.
polyethylene glycol (PEG) Sigma Aldrich P-3640
Potassium acetate AppliChem 121479 alternatively use local supplier
Pyridoxin (Monohydrochlorid) Sigma Aldrich P-9755
Riboflavin  Sigma Aldrich R4500
RNaseA Sigma Aldrich R5503
SDS Roth Cn30.3 alternatively use local supplier
small syringe BD 300300 alternatively use local supplier
sterile filter, 22 µm VWR 28145-477 alternatively use local supplier
Sorbitol Roth 6213.1 alternatively use local supplier
Thiamin-Hydrochloride Serva 36020.02 alternatively use local supplier
tri-Na-Citrate Fisher Chemical S332060 alternatively use local supplier
Tris- (hydroxymethyl) aminomethane VWR 103156X alternatively use local supplier
Tris hydrochloride Roth 9090.4 alternatively use local supplier
Triton X-100  Serva  37240 alternatively use local supplier
ZnCl2 Fluka 96470 alternatively use local supplier
Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Composition of solutions/preparation of material Composition of solutions
Carboxin Stock: 5 mg/ml in methanol, final concentration: 2 µg/ml
CM plates 0.25 % (w/v) Casamino acids, 0.1 % (w/v) Yeast Extract, 1.0 % (v/v) Holliday vitamin solution, 6.25 % (v/v); Holliday salt solution, 0.05 % (w/v) DNA degr. free acid, 0.15 % (w/v) NH4NO3, 2.0 % (w/v) Bacto Agar; adjust to pH 7.0 using 5 M NaOH; after autoclaving add 1 % glucose 
Geneticin (G418) Stock: 50 mg/ml in H2O, final concentration: 500 µg/ml
HCl-washed glass beads (0,35-0,45 mm) Cover glass beads with concentrated HCl (25 %, 7.8 M) and incubate for 60 min. Sway several times. Decant HCl (keep decanted liquid) and wash glass beads with 3 M HCl (keep decanted liquid). Wash glass beads several times with double distilled H2O until the pH is 7 (the liquid should not be yellow-green anymore). Aliquot the glass beads and dry them at 180 °C. The decanted HCl has to be neutralized before disposal. 
Heparin Stock: 15 mg/ml
Holliday salt solution 16.0 ‰ (w/v) KH2PO4, 4.0 ‰ (w/v) Na2SO4, 8.0 ‰ (w/v) KCl, 1.32 ‰ (w/v) CaCl2*2H2O, 8.0 ‰ (v/v) trace elements, 2.0 ‰ (w/v) MgSO4; sterile filtrate
Holliday vitamin solution  0.1‰ (w/v) Thiamin, 0.05‰ (w/v) Riboflavin, 0.05‰ (w/v) Pyridoxin, 0.2‰ (w/v) Ca-Pantothenat, (0.05‰ (w/v) Aminobenzoeic acid, 0.2‰ (w/v) Nicotinic acid, 0.2‰ (w/v) Cholinchlorid, 1.0‰ (w/v) myo-Inositol; may be stored at -20 °C
Hygromycin Stock: 50 mg/ml in PBS, final concentration: 200 µg/ml
Nourseothricin Stock: 200 mg/ml in H2O, final concentration: 150 µg/ml
NSY-glycerol-medium 0.8 % (w/v) Nutrient Broth, 0.1 % (w/v) Yeast Extract, 0.5 % (w/v) Sucrose,  80.0 % (v/v) 87% Glycerin (f.c. 69.6%) 
RegLight 1.0% (w/v) Yeast Extract  0.4 % (w/v) Bacto Peptone, 0.4 % (w/v) Sucrose, 18.22 % (w/v) Sorbitol, 1.5 % (w/v) Agar
SCS, pH 5.8 Solution 1: 20 mM tri-Na-citrate, 1 M Sorbitol; colution 2: 20 mM Citric acid, 1 M Sorbitol, add solution 2 into solution 1 until pH 5.8 is reached; autoclave
STC, pH 8 1 M Sorbitol, 10 mM Tris-HCl pH 7.5, 100 mM CaCl2; filter sterile
STC/PEG 40 % (v/v) PEG in STC-buffer 
TE buffer, pH 8 1.31 mM Tris-Base, 8.69 mM Tris-HCl, 10 mM Na2-EDTA*2H2O
TE/RNase 10 µg/ml RNaseA in TE buffer
Trace elements 0.06‰ (w/v) H3BO3, 0.14‰ (w/v) MnCl*4H2O, 0.4 ‰ (w/v) ZnCl2, 0.4 ‰ (w/v) Na2MoO4*2H2O, 0.1 ‰ (w/v) FeCl3*6H2O, 0.04‰ (w/v) CuSO4*5H2O
Trichoderma lysing enzymes solution 12.5 mg/ml SCS; filter sterile; prepare shortly before use
Tris-HCl pH 7.5 806 mM Tris-HCl, 194 mM Tris-Base; check the pH and if necessary adjust with HCl; autoclave
Usti-lysis buffer 1, pH 8 10 mM Tris-HCl (pH 8.0), 10 mM NaCl, 1 % (w/v) SDS, 2 % (v/v) TritonX-100, 1 mM EDTA. Do not measure pH using pH meter. 
Usti-lysis buffer 2 mix Usti lysis buffer 1 with 1 x TE in a 1:1 ratio
YEPS-Light medium 1.0% (w/v) Yeast Extract, 0.4% (w/v) Bacto Peptone, 0.4% (w/v) Sucrose, for plates: 1.5% (w/v) Bacto Agar

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