Autophagy is a highly conserved process that maintains intracellular homeostasis by degrading proteins or organelles in all eukaryotes. The effect of autophagy on fungal biology and infection of insect pathogens is unknown. Here, we report the function of MrATG8, an ortholog of yeast ATG8, in the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium robertsii. MrATG8 can complement an ATG8-defective yeast strain and deletion of MrATG8 impaired autophagy, conidiation and fungal infection biology in M. robertsii. Compared with the wild-type and gene-rescued mutant, Mratg8? is not inductive to form the infection-structure appressorium and is impaired in defense response against insect immunity. In addition, accumulation of lipid droplets (LDs) is significantly reduced in the conidia of Mratg8? and the pathogenicity of the mutant is drastically impaired. We also found that the cellular level of a LD-specific perilipin-like protein is significantly lowered by deletion of MrATG8 and that the carboxyl terminus beyond the predicted protease cleavage site is dispensable for MrAtg8 function. To corroborate the role of autophagy in fungal physiology, the homologous genes of yeast ATG1, ATG4 and ATG15, designated as MrATG1, MrATG4 and MrATG15, were also deleted in M. robertsii. In contrast to Mratg8?, these mutants could form appressoria, however, the LD accumulation and virulence were also considerably impaired in the mutant strains. Our data showed that autophagy is required in M. robertsii for fungal differentiation, lipid biogenesis and insect infection. The results advance our understanding of autophagic process in fungi and provide evidence to connect autophagy with lipid metabolism.
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