We present the genome sequences of a new clinical isolate of the important human pathogen, Aspergillus fumigatus, A1163, and two closely related but rarely pathogenic species, Neosartorya fischeri NRRL181 and Aspergillus clavatus NRRL1. Comparative genomic analysis of A1163 with the recently sequenced A. fumigatus isolate Af293 has identified core, variable and up to 2% unique genes in each genome. While the core genes are 99.8% identical at the nucleotide level, identity for variable genes can be as low 40%. The most divergent loci appear to contain heterokaryon incompatibility (het) genes associated with fungal programmed cell death such as developmental regulator rosA. Cross-species comparison has revealed that 8.5%, 13.5% and 12.6%, respectively, of A. fumigatus, N. fischeri and A. clavatus genes are species-specific. These genes are significantly smaller in size than core genes, contain fewer exons and exhibit a subtelomeric bias. Most of them cluster together in 13 chromosomal islands, which are enriched for pseudogenes, transposons and other repetitive elements. At least 20% of A. fumigatus-specific genes appear to be functional and involved in carbohydrate and chitin catabolism, transport, detoxification, secondary metabolism and other functions that may facilitate the adaptation to heterogeneous environments such as soil or a mammalian host. Contrary to what was suggested previously, their origin cannot be attributed to horizontal gene transfer (HGT), but instead is likely to involve duplication, diversification and differential gene loss (DDL). The role of duplication in the origin of lineage-specific genes is further underlined by the discovery of genomic islands that seem to function as designated “gene dumps” and, perhaps, simultaneously, as “gene factories”.
Aspergillus is an extremely diverse genus of filamentous ascomycetous fungi (molds) found ubiquitously in soil and decomposing vegetation. Being supreme opportunists, aspergilli have adapted to overcome various chemical, physical, and biological stresses found in heterogeneous environments. While most species in the genus are saprophytes, a surprising number are able to infect wounded plants and animals. Remarkably, the allergic human host also responds abnormally to the aspergilli with lung and sinus disease. The advent of immunosuppressive agents and other medical advances have created a large worldwide pool of human hosts susceptible to some Aspergillus species, including the world's most harmful mold and the causative agent of invasive aspergillosis, Aspergillus fumigatus. In this study, we have used the power of comparative genomics to gain insight into genetic mechanisms that may contribute to the metabolic versatility and pathogenicity of this important human pathogen. Comparison of the genomes of two A. fumigatus clinical isolates and two closely related, but rarely pathogenic species showed that their genomes contain several large isolate- and species-specific chromosomal islands. The metabolic capabilities encoded by these highly labile regions are likely to contribute to their rapid adaptation to heterogeneous environments such as soil or a living host.