RIP mutated ITS genes in populations ofOphiocordyceps sinensisand their implications for molecular systematics

Different hypotheses have been proposed to interpret the observed unusual ITS (internal transcribed spacer) sequences inOphiocordyceps sinensis. The coexistence of diverged ITS paralogs in a single genome was previously shown by amplifying the ITS region from mono-ascospore isolates using specific primers designed for different ITS paralog groups. Among those paralogs, are AT-biased ITS sequences which were hypothesized to result from repeat-induced point mutation (RIP). This is a process that detects and mutates repetitive DNA and frequently leads to epigenetic silencing, and these mutations have been interpreted as pseudogenes. Here we investigate the occurrence and frequency of ITS pseudogenes in populations ofO. sinensisusing large-scale sampling, and discusses the implications of ITS pseudogenes for fungal phylogenetic and evolutionary studies. Our results demonstrate a wide distribution of ITS pseudogenes amongst different geographic populations, and indicate how ITS pseudogenes can contribute to the reconstruction of the evolutionary history of the species.