The Species-Specific Acquisition and Diversification of a K1-like Family of Killer Toxins in Budding Yeasts of the Saccharomycotina.


Fredericks LR(1), Lee MD(1), Crabtree AM(1), Boyer JM(1), Kizer EA(1), Taggart NT(1), Roslund CR(1), Hunter SS(2), Kennedy CB(1), Willmore CG(1), Tebbe NM(1), Harris JS(1), Brocke SN(1), Rowley PA(1).
Author information:
(1)Department of Biological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, United States of America.
(2)iBEST Genomics Core, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, United States of America.


Killer toxins are extracellular antifungal proteins that are produced by a wide variety of fungi, including Saccharomyces yeasts. Although many Saccharomyces killer toxins have been previously identified, their evolutionary origins remain uncertain given that many of these genes have been mobilized by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses. A survey of yeasts from the Saccharomyces genus has identified a novel killer toxin with a unique spectrum of activity produced by Saccharomyces paradoxus. The expression of this killer toxin is associated with the presence of a dsRNA totivirus and a satellite dsRNA. Genetic sequencing of the satellite dsRNA confirmed that it encodes a killer toxin with homology to the canonical ionophoric K1 toxin from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and has been named K1-like (K1L). Genomic homologs of K1L were identified in six non-Saccharomyces yeast species of the Saccharomycotina subphylum, predominantly in subtelomeric regions of the genome. When ectopically expressed in S. cerevisiae from cloned cDNAs, both K1L and its homologs can inhibit the growth of competing yeast species, confirming the discovery of a family of biologically active K1-like killer toxins. The sporadic distribution of these genes supports their acquisition by horizontal gene transfer followed by diversification. The phylogenetic relationship between K1L and its genomic homologs suggests a common ancestry and gene flow via dsRNAs and DNAs across taxonomic divisions. This appears to enable the acquisition of a diverse arsenal of killer toxins by different yeast species for potential use in niche competition.