Cryptococcus is a globally distributed human fungal pathogen that primarily afflicts immunocompromised individuals. How and why this human fungal pathogen associates with plants and how this environmental niche influences its life cycle remains a mystery. We established Cryptococcus-Arabidopsis and Cryptococcus-Eucalyptus systems and discovered that Cryptococcus proliferates and mates on plant surfaces. Mating efficiency of C. gattii was markedly enhanced on plants and myo-inositol and indole acetic acid were specific plant products that stimulated mating. On Arabidopsis, dwarfing and chlorosis were observed following infection with a fungal mixture of two opposite mating-type strains, but not with either mating-type alone. This infection process is countered by the plant jasmonate-mediated defense mechanism. These findings reveal that Cryptococcus can parasitically interact with plants to complete its sexual cycle, which may impact an understanding of the origin and evolution of both plant and animal fungal pathogens in nature.
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