Principle author Goodwin, a Purdue University research plant pathologist, said the fungus had fewer enzyme-producing genes that many fungi use to penetrate and digest plants' surfaces while infecting them. Goodwin worked on sequencing the genome of the fungus Mycosphaerella graminicola, which causes septoria tritici blotch, a disease that reduces yield and quality in wheat, the university said in a release.
"We're guessing that the low number of enzymes is to avoid detection by plant defenses," Goodwin said.
Enzymes typically break down plant cell walls and begin removing nutrients, leading to the plant's death, the researcher said. M. graminicola enters the plant through small pores in the surface of leaves.
Goodwin said the fungus apparently avoids detection by lying dormant between plant cells before infecting the plant.
With the sequenced genome, scientists hope to discover which genes cause toxicity in wheat and discover ways to either eliminate that toxicity or improve wheat's defenses, Goodwin said.
The study was published in the online edition of the journal PLoS Genetics.