The Pi2/9 locus contains multiple nucleotide binding site–leucine-rich repeat (NBS-LRR) genes in the rice genome. Although three functional R-genes have been cloned from this locus, little is known about the origin and evolutionary history of these genes. Herein, an extensive genome-wide survey of Pi2/9 homologs in rice, sorghum, Brachypodium and Arabidopsis, was conducted to explore this theme.
In our study, 1, 1, 5 and 156 Pi2/9 homologs were detected in Arabidopsis, Brachypodium, sorghum and rice genomes, respectively. Two distinct evolutionary patterns of Pi2/9 homologs, Type I and Type II, were observed in rice lines. Type I Pi2/9 homologs showed evidence of rapid gene diversification, including substantial copy number variations, obscured orthologous relationships, high levels of nucleotide diversity or/and divergence, frequent sequence exchanges and strong positive selection, whereas Type II Pi2/9 homologs exhibited a fairly slow evolutionary rate. Interestingly, the three cloned R-genes from the Pi2/9 locus all belonged to the Type I genes.
Our data show that the Pi2/9 locus had an ancient origin predating the common ancestor of gramineous species. The existence of two types of Pi2/9 homologs suggest that diversifying evolution should be an important strategy of rice to cope with different types of pathogens. The relationship of cloned Pi2/9 genes and Type I genes also suggests that rapid gene diversification might facilitate rice to adapt quickly to the changing spectrum of the fungal pathogen M. grisea. Based on these criteria, other potential candidate genes that might confer novel resistance specificities to rice blast could be predicted.