Conserved biochemical defenses underpin host responses to oomycete infection in an early-divergent land plant lineage.
The expansion of plants onto land necessitated the evolution of robust defense strategies to protect against a wide array of microbial invaders. Whereas host responses to microbial colonization are extensively explored in evolutionarily young land plant lineages such as angiosperms, we know relatively little about plant-pathogen interactions in early-diverging land plants thought to better represent the ancestral state. Here, we define the transcriptional and proteomic response of the early-divergent liverwort Marchantia polymorpha to infection with the oomycete pathogen Phytophthora palmivora. We uncover a robust molecular response to oomycete colonization in Marchantia that consists of conserved land plant gene families. Direct macroevolutionary comparisons of host infection responses in Marchantia and the model angiosperm Nicotiana benthamiana further reveal a shared set of orthologous microbe-responsive genes that include members of the phenylpropanoid metabolic pathway. In addition, we identify a role for the Marchantia R2R3-MYB transcription factor MpMyb14 in activating phenylpropanoid (flavonoid) biosynthesis during oomycete infection. Mpmyb14 mutants infected with P. palmivora fail to activate phenylpropanoid biosynthesis gene expression and display enhanced disease susceptibility compared to wild-type plants. Conversely, the ectopic induction of MpMyb14 led to the accumulation of anthocyanin-like pigments and dramatically enhanced liverwort resistance to P. palmivora infection. Collectively, our results demonstrate that the Marchantia response to oomycete infection displays evolutionarily conserved features indicative of an ancestral pathogen deterrence strategy centered on phenylpropanoid-mediated biochemical defenses.