In many organisms, two component systems have evolved to discriminate self from nonself. While the molecular function of the two components has been elucidated in several systems, the evolutionary events leading to the large number of different specificities for self–nonself recognition found in most systems remain obscure.
We have investigated the variation within a multiallelic nonself recognition system in the phytopathogenic basidiomycete Ustilago maydis by means of sequence analysis and functional studies.
The multiallelic b mating type locus of U. maydis ensures outbreeding during sexual development. Nonself recognition is specified by the two homeodomain proteins, bE and bW, encoded by the b locus. While bE–bW combinations from the same allele do not dimerize, bE and bW proteins originating from different alleles form a heterodimeric complex that functions as master regulator for sexual and pathogenic development.
We show that novel specificities of the b mating type locus have arisen by single homologous recombination events between distinct b alleles that lead to a simultaneous exchange of subdomains involved in dimerization in both bE and bW, altering the specificity of both proteins in a single step.