Sexual reproduction in fungi is governed by a specialized genomic region called the mating-type locus ( MAT). The human fungal pathogenic and basidiomycetous yeast Cryptococcus neoformans has evolved a bipolar mating system ( a, α) in which the MAT locus is unusually large (>100 kb) and encodes >20 genes including homeodomain (HD) and pheromone/receptor (P/R) genes. To understand how this unique bipolar mating system evolved, we investigated MAT in the closely related species Tsuchiyaea wingfieldii and Cryptococcus amylolentus and discovered two physically unlinked loci encoding the HD and P/R genes. Interestingly, the HD (B) locus sex-specific region is restricted (∼2 kb) and encodes two linked and divergently oriented homeodomain genes in contrast to the solo HD genes ( SXI1α, SXI2 a) of C. neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii. The P/R (A) locus contains the pheromone and pheromone receptor genes but has expanded considerably compared to other outgroup species ( Cryptococcus heveanensis) and is linked to many of the genes also found in the MAT locus of the pathogenic Cryptococcus species. Our discovery of a heterothallic sexual cycle for C. amylolentus allowed us to establish the biological roles of the sex-determining regions. Matings between two strains of opposite mating-types (A1B1×A2B2) produced dikaryotic hyphae with fused clamp connections, basidia, and basidiospores. Genotyping progeny using markers linked and unlinked to MAT revealed that meiosis and uniparental mitochondrial inheritance occur during the sexual cycle of C. amylolentus. The sexual cycle is tetrapolar and produces fertile progeny of four mating-types (A1B1, A1B2, A2B1, and A2B2), but a high proportion of progeny are infertile, and fertility is biased towards one parental mating-type (A1B1). Our studies reveal insights into the plasticity and transitions in both mechanisms of sex determination (bipolar versus tetrapolar) and sexual reproduction (outcrossing versus inbreeding) with implications for similar evolutionary transitions and processes in fungi, plants, and animals.
Fungal gene clusters mediate sex determination, natural product synthesis, and metabolic functions. Eukaryotic organisms share features of gene cluster formation including translocations, inversions, gene conversion, and suppressed recombination. The C. neoformans/ C. gattii mating-type ( MAT) locus spans a single >100 kb gene cluster encoding >20 genes, many involved in sex. We examined MAT gene cluster evolution in model and pathogenic Cryptococcus species. MAT was characterized from two closely related species, T. wingfieldii and C. amylolentus, and is organized into two unlinked gene clusters on different chromosomes. MAT organization in these species provides insight into evolutionary transitions from tetrapolar to bipolar mating systems involving fusion of physically unlinked sex-determinants into one contiguous region. These sex determination transitions occurred concomitantly with the origin of the pathogenic species complex from the last common ancestor shared with tetrapolar non-pathogenic species. We discovered a tetrapolar sexual cycle in C. amylolentus that generates recombinant meiotic progeny, many of which are infertile. Fertile progeny are biased towards one parental mating-type (A1B1) and may be an evolutionary precursor to unisexual mating of the closely related pathogenic species. This study reveals factors orchestrating gene cluster formation and sex chromosome evolution in fungi, including features shared with animals and plants.