Resurgence of less-studied smut fungi as models of phytopathogenesis in the -omics era.

The smut fungi form a large, diverse, and non-monophyletic group of plant pathogens that have long served as both important pests of human agriculture but also as fertile organisms of scientific investigation. As modern techniques of molecular genetic analysis became available, many previously-studied species that proved refractive to these techniques fell by the wayside to become neglected. Now, as the advent of rapid and affordable next-generation sequencing provides genomic and transcriptomic resources for even these “forgotten” fungi, several species are making a come-back and retaking prominent places in phytopathogenic research. In this review, we highlight several of these smut fungi, with special emphasis on Microbotryum lychnidis-dioicae, an anther smut, whose molecular genetic tools have finally begun to catch up with its historical importance in classical genetics and now provide mechanistic insights for ecological studies, evolution of host/pathogen interaction, and investigations of emerging infectious disease.

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