Rhizopus oryzae is the primary cause of mucormycosis, an emerging, life-threatening infection characterized by rapid angioinvasive growth with an overall mortality rate that exceeds 50%. As a representative of the paraphyletic basal group of the fungal kingdom called “zygomycetes,” R. oryzae is also used as a model to study fungal evolution. Here we report the genome sequence of R. oryzae strain 99–880, isolated from a fatal case of mucormycosis. The highly repetitive 45.3 Mb genome assembly contains abundant transposable elements (TEs), comprising approximately 20% of the genome. We predicted 13,895 protein-coding genes not overlapping TEs, many of which are paralogous gene pairs. The order and genomic arrangement of the duplicated gene pairs and their common phylogenetic origin provide evidence for an ancestral whole-genome duplication (WGD) event. The WGD resulted in the duplication of nearly all subunits of the protein complexes associated with respiratory electron transport chains, the V-ATPase, and the ubiquitin–proteasome systems. The WGD, together with recent gene duplications, resulted in the expansion of multiple gene families related to cell growth and signal transduction, as well as secreted aspartic protease and subtilase protein families, which are known fungal virulence factors. The duplication of the ergosterol biosynthetic pathway, especially the major azole target, lanosterol 14α-demethylase (ERG11), could contribute to the variable responses of R. oryzae to different azole drugs, including voriconazole and posaconazole. Expanded families of cell-wall synthesis enzymes, essential for fungal cell integrity but absent in mammalian hosts, reveal potential targets for novel and R. oryzae-specific diagnostic and therapeutic treatments.
Rhizopus oryzae is a widely dispersed fungus that can cause fatal infections in people with suppressed immune systems, especially diabetics or organ transplant recipients. Antibiotic therapy alone is rarely curative, particularly in patients with disseminated infection. We sequenced the genome of a pathogenic R. oryzae strain and found evidence that the entire genome had been duplicated at some point in its evolution and retained two copies of three extremely sophisticated systems involved in energy generation and utilization. The ancient whole-genome duplication, together with recent gene duplications, has led to the expansion of gene families related to pathogen virulence, fungal-specific cell wall synthesis, and signal transduction, which may contribute to the aggressive and frequently life-threatening growth of this organism. We also identified cell wall synthesis enzymes, essential for fungal cell integrity but absent in mammals, which may present potential targets for developing novel diagnostic and therapeutic treatments. R. oryzae represents the first sequenced fungus from the early lineages of the fungal phylogenetic tree, and thus the genome sequence sheds light on the evolution of the entire fungal kingdom.