Endophytic Epichloë species and their grass hosts: from evolution to applications

Kari Saikkonen, Carolyn A. Young, Marjo Helander, Christopher L. Schardl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


The closely linked fitness of the Epichloë symbiont and the host grass is presumed to align the coevolution of the species towards specialization and mutually beneficial cooperation. Ecological observations demonstrating that Epichloë-grass symbioses can modulate grassland ecosystems via both above- and belowground ecosystem processes support this. In many cases the detected ecological importance of Epichloë species is directly or indirectly linked to defensive mutualism attributable to alkaloids of fungal-origin. Now, modern genetic and molecular techniques enable the precise studies on evolutionary origin of endophytic Epichloë species, their coevolution with host grasses and identification the genetic variation that explains phenotypic diversity in ecologically relevant characteristics of Epichloë-grass associations. Here we briefly review the most recent findings in these areas of research using the present knowledge of the genetic variation that explains the biosynthetic pathways driving the diversity of alkaloids produced by the endophyte. These findings underscore the importance of genetic interplay between the fungus and the host in shaping their coevolution and ecological role in both natural grass ecosystems, and in the agricultural arena.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-675
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Molecular Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, The Author(s).


  • Alkaloids
  • Coevolution
  • Fungal endophytes
  • Genetic variation
  • Grass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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