Sex life of fungi


This 2016 video about fungi is called Sordaria Crossing Over.

From the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany:

Sexual development in fungi

September 4, 2018

Biologists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Georg-August-Universität Göttingen have gained new insights into specific enzymes that effect the specialisation of fungal cells. Analysing the microscopic fungus Sordaria macrospora, they demonstrated that the KIN3 enzyme connects different cellular signalling pathways that are involved in developmental processes. Thus, it is crucial for the sexual life cycle of the fungus.

The team headed by Dr. Daria Radchenko and Professor Ulrich Kück from the Chair of General and Molecular Botany published a report on their study in the journal Genetics; it is featured as the cover story in the September 2018 edition.

Similarities between fungi and animals

KIN3 is a so-called germinal center kinase; this group of enzymes occurs in all organisms with a cell nucleus. Kinases control essential developmental processes, such as cell growth and cell differentiation. “The kinases of different living organisms, for example animals and fungi, exhibit similar structural and functional properties”, says Daria Radchenko. “Consequently, analyses of simple microbial organisms also yield insights into the corresponding proteins in mammals.”

Mutants were sterile

In her PhD thesis, Radchenko analysed various processes that result in a specialisation of cells during the development of the ascomycete Sordaria macrospora. By generating mutants of the fungus that were unable to form the KIN3 enzyme, she demonstrated that KIN3 plays a vital role in the sexual development of the organism. Mutants lacking the enzyme remain sterile.

In follow-up studies with multiple mutants, it emerged that KIN3 connects several signal cascades that are essential for developmental processes in all living organisms with a cell nucleus. In experiments using fluorescence microscopy, the researchers detected that the cell structure in those mutants was drastically altered; they were unable to form cross-walls. This resulted in numerous developmental disorders.

Conclusions drawn for mammals

Coordinated development of organisms requires the correct temporal and spatial distribution of signalling molecules in the cell. In mutants that lack KIN3, as the study authors conclude, the correct distribution appears to be impaired; this results in malformations of the organism.

“Generally speaking, these scientific findings may be used to draw conclusions for cellular processes in mammals, in which the loss of the corresponding enzyme leads to neurodevelopmental disorders, leukaemia, or carcinomas”, says Ulrich Kück. “By providing an insight into the mechanistic principles of these disorders, our data may be used for developing new therapeutic approaches.”

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New truffle species discovery in Florida, USA


This 2014 video from the USA is called Truffles in Florida.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Two new truffle species discovered in Florida pecan orchards

August 23, 2018

Two new species of truffles were recently discovered on the roots of pecan trees in Florida orchards. The good news is that you can eat them — the bad news is that you wouldn’t want to.

While Tuber brennemanii and Tuber floridanum are edible “true” truffles, in the same genus as the fragrant underground mushrooms prized by chefs, their unappealing odor and small size — about 1 inch wide — will likely discourage people from eating them, said Matthew Smith, an associate professor in the University of Florida department of plant pathology and an affiliate associate curator in the Florida Museum of Natural History Herbarium.

“At least one of the species was pretty stinky and not in a good way, so you wouldn’t necessarily want to eat it”, Smith said. “These guys are small, and they don’t have these really great odors, but the animals love them.”

Smith and his team were studying pecan truffles when they found the new species.

“One of the things we wanted to do is identify the communities we find in these pecan orchards because those are the things that are going to be there naturally and those are the ones that are going to be in direct competition with the species we’re interested in trying to grow”, he said.

Arthur Grupe, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in UF’s department of plant pathology, said the team is researching another, more common pecan truffle, Tuber lyonii, potentially an important economic crop in Florida.

Valued for their pleasant aroma and taste, pecan truffles sell for $160 to $300 per pound. Pecan orchards with a high density of pecan truffles might increase farmers’ per acre profit by up to 20 percent, Grupe said.

Even though the two new truffle species might lack the appetizing qualities of more commonly known truffle species, Smith said their discovery is important and points to the significance of conservation, especially in forest habitats. “Just because you don’t see diversity easily doesn’t mean that it’s not there,” Smith said. “I guess to me it speaks to the fact that there’s really a lot we don’t know about the natural world, and it’s worth preserving so we can try to understand it.”

Smith said the newly described truffle species had likely gone undetected because animals — such as squirrels, wild pigs and other small mammals — were eating them or because they occur earlier in the year than pecan truffles.

The researchers plan to study the new species to learn more about their relationship to pecan truffles and how they compete with other truffle species for resources.

“So far, we have found these truffles mostly in Florida and Georgia”, Grupe said. “Interestingly, a collaborator in Brazil found one of these species in a pecan orchard. We suspect that it hitched a ride on pecan seedlings shipped from the U.S. I think it is a great example of hidden biodiversity.”

Smith said people tend to be more afraid of mushrooms than curious and don’t take the time to learn about them — even though new species are right under our feet.

“Fungi are understudied in general, and things that fruit below ground that are hard to see are even more understudied”, Smith said. “It’s interesting to know these things are out there. You’re walking on them all the time and they still don’t have a name — no one has formally recognized them before. I think that’s kind of cool.”

Animals, fungi help forests


This 28 October 2017 video says about itself:

Breathtaking beauty of a local forest in central China

A local forest in Tujia autonomous county of central China’s Hubei Province has turned into a natural multi-colored palette as temperature drops, featuring a subtropical monsoon climate.

With an annual average temperature of 9.3℃, the remote and sparsely populated area is also famous for snowing in early spring and a frosty weather in July.

From the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig:

Animals and fungi enhance the performance of forests

Study based on ten years of research in subtropical forests

August 1, 2018

A new study shows that, in addition to the diversity of tree species, the variety of animal and fungus species also has a decisive influence on the performance of forests. Forest performance comprises many facets besides timber production, such as carbon storage and climate regulation. The study is based on ten years of research in species-rich subtropical forests. A team of researchers led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg has published the results in the new issue of Nature Communications. They illustrate that biodiversity must be viewed as a whole in order to maintain the performance of forests.

There is a global concern that the loss of biodiversity caused by people is impairing the functioning of our cultural and natural landscapes. In our forests, trees are the most conspicuous and prominent organisms. The consequences of reduced tree species diversity are therefore comparatively easy to grasp. However, it is much more difficult to take into consideration the diversity of the thousands of sometimes tiny animal and micro-organism species that perform important tasks in forests as herbivores, pest controllers or recycling experts. Therefore, the effects of a loss of this species diversity have so far been difficult to quantify. After years of dedication, a team of German, Chinese, Swiss and American researchers has now succeeded in doing this for the first time for particularly species-rich, semi-natural forests in the subtropics of China. The research group has not only studied the enormous species diversity of beetles, spiders, ants, woodlice and fungi in these forests, but at the same time, they investigated a variety of processes that are essential for the functioning of the forests. These processes include the growth of timber, the prevention of soil erosion, the recycling of nutrients or the biological control of potential pests.

“Our analyses show that the diversity of animal and fungal species affects numerous important processes — such as the availability of nutrients for tree growth”, said Dr Andreas Schuldt, first author of the study, from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. “To understand why and how a loss of biodiversity affects these forests, it is not enough to concentrate solely on the trees and their species diversity.” The species richness of herbivores and their competitors was also important, an important finding with regard to the expected intensification and the possible prevention of pest infestation with progressive climate change. Furthermore, besides animals and fungi, the researchers found that the multifunctionality of forest stands is influenced not so much by the number of tree species as by their functional properties and the resulting composition of different types of tree species. “Our previous knowledge on the relationships between multifunctionality and biodiversity mainly comes from comparatively species-poor forests in Europe and North America”, said Prof Helge Bruelheide, spokesperson of the research group and senior author of the study. “We can now show for the first time that such relationships in the extremely species-rich subtropics and tropics follow their own dynamics. This is important to understand because these forests are of great importance for global biogeochemical cycles and for us humans.”

The results of the study also allow deductions for the management of forests under ever-changing environmental conditions and therefore provide important basic data. These insights were made possible by the many years of funding of biodiversity research and the project by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

To offset CO2 emissions, China is reforesting. If a mixture of tree species instead of monocultures were planted, much more carbon could be stored. An international team has shown that species-rich forest ecosystems take up more CO2 from the atmosphere and store more carbon in biomass and soil, making them more effective against climate change: here.

Fungi and conservation in the USA


This 2016 video says about itself:

You might see some of these 11 bizarre and creepy looking fungi around the world; here are what they’re called and if they are edible.

6. The Bitter Oyster Mushroom. This mushroom is found in the local regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia where it grows in clusters located mostly on oak, birch, and beech trees. Bitter oysters happen to be one of the manly bioluminescent mushrooms that exist and it’s only the eastern North American strain that is able to glow, unlike the Pacific strain. It’s thanks to this species of mushroom that the term foxfire was coined by the early settlers. Fun fact: This mushroom is classified as being bioremediation as it has the power to absorb the toxins from environmental pollutants and is able to break down lignin.

5. Stemonitis fusca. This is a species of slime mold that isn’t actually a fungus, however, it was at one point classified in the same kingdom. Sometimes they’re still grouped together as a means of convenience. These eukaryotic organisms are able to live as single cells but combine into multicellular reproductive structures. This type of slime mold can be found in small groups forming on dead wood. It’s recognized by its slender stalks that hold up the sporangia that only grows to a height of around 6 to 20 millimeters tall. There’s over 900 documented species of slime mold that exist all over the world.

4. The Blue Milk Mushroom. The more common name for this edible mushroom is the indigo milk cap and it can be found in several different areas of the world including East Asia, Central America, and eastern North America, which is why they’re most often found in Chinese, Mexican, and Guatemalan food dishes. When the mushroom is cut open or broken it leaks an indigo milk or as it’s referred to “latex” and the mushroom begins to change into a green color once exposed to oxygen. This species of mushroom is definitely considered to be one of the most beautiful, yet, weird species in the world.

3. The False Morel Mushroom. Also known as the brain mushroom and you can see why the false morel will definitely prove to be fatal if ingested raw and not properly prepared. A good number of people have died. False morels are actually considered as a famous delicacy in areas such as Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and in the regions of the Great Lakes of North America. In certain places in the world, it’s illegal to sell, in others, it must come with a warning label. The safety of its consumption has been recently brought into question as it’s been noted that even if properly prepared, toxins in the mushroom can still remain and quite a number of people have developed acute toxicity. So, there could very well be some long-term health effects related to this mushroom.

2. The Bleeding Tooth Fungus. Hydnellum peckii is an interesting looking inedible mushroom that is definitely not something you want to try and eat. What you see in the following photo is a young bleeding tooth fungus that is secreting a red liquid. It’s not blood or anything, even though it does resemble it. It’s really just a liquid that is filled with anticoagulant properties. That means it’s capable of preventing blood clots. When the fungus ages it turns brown and looks unrecognizable compared to its youth. They’re most common in North America but are also found in other parts of the world.

1. The Amanita muscaria. More commonly referred to as the fly agaric, this mushroom is very famous for its psychoactive properties. Not only that, but this mushroom is also considered to be highly poisonous, that is, if it’s eaten raw and not properly detoxified first. Careful, though, there’s no antidote but there are several methods as far as treatment goes. Under several different laws and ordinances, the Amanita muscaria is illegal in The United Kingdom, Australia, and The Netherlands. This fungus also happens to be quite famous in pop culture what with being featured in the Super Mario Bros. franchise and in the Alice in Wonderland book to name a few.

From Washington State University in the USA:

Fungi may help restore native plant populations

Symbiotic relationship helps stabilize soil, conserve water, provide habitat

May 14, 2018

Transplanting fungi to restore native plant populations in the Midwest and Northwest is the focus of efforts by a team of WSU Tri-Cities researchers.

Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with many plant roots, which helps stabilize the soil, conserve water and provides a habitat for many birds and insects, said Tanya Cheeke, assistant professor of biology. Some native plant species are more dependent on mycorrhizal fungi than invasive plant species. So, when that fungi is disturbed, native plants may not be able to compete as well with invasive species, disrupting the natural ecosystem of the environment and inhibiting many natural processes, she said.

Inoculate seedlings with microbes

“One way to improve native plant survival and growth in disturbed environments may be to inoculate seedlings with native soil microbes, which are then transplanted into a restoration site”, Cheeke said. “We’ve been doing prairie restoration in Kansas for the past two years. Now, we’re also doing something similar in the Palouse area in Washington.”

Cheeke is working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to complete the research. A group of her undergraduate students recently presented their project during the WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition. Those students include Catalina Yepez, Jasmine Gonzales, Megan Brauner and Bryndalyn Corey.

The undergraduate team spent the past semester analyzing the spread of fungi from an inoculated soil environment in Kansas to see how far the fungi had spread into a restoration area. One year after planting, soil samples were collected at 0.5 meter, 1 meter, 1.5 meters, and 2 meters from the site of the inoculation in each plot. The samples were then tested for the presence of fungal DNA to see if the inoculated mycorrhizal species had reached the various distances from the inoculation points.

“The results will be used to inform ecological restoration efforts aimed at improving the survival and growth of native plants in disturbed ecosystems,” undergraduate student Megan Brauner said.

Disturbed vs. pristine environments

Cheeke said they also are looking at how microbes change across gradients of disturbed environments compared to pristine environments.

“We want to determine the microbes that are present in pristine environments, but are missing from disturbed sites,” she said.

Eventually, Cheeke said they would like to develop soil restoration strategies that other people can implement in their own environments.

Leafcutter ants, new research


This 2015 video is called Leafcutter Ants‘ Life.

From Rice University in the USA:

Leafcutter ants‘ success due to more than crop selection

Genetic analysis finds leafcutter ants originated in South America

May 9, 2018

A complex genetic analysis has biologists re-evaluating some long-held beliefs about the way societies evolved following the invention of agriculture — by six-legged farmers.

Like humans, leafcutter ants grow crops, and like humans, farming allows the ants to produce enough food to support millions of individuals who work at specialized jobs. But while people invented agriculture at the dawn of civilization about 10,000 years ago, leafcutters began cultivating massive subterranean fungus gardens more than 10 million years ago.

In a study published this week in Molecular Ecology, biologists from Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and Brazil’s São Paulo State University analyzed genetic data from samples collected at leafcutter nests throughout South, Central and North America and concluded that the ants originated in South America and owe their success to something more than their choice of crops.

The ability to grow domesticated crops was a major turning point in human history and evolution, and we thought, until recently, that a similar thing was true for leafcutters,” said study co-author Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist at Rice who collected many of the study’s samples as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “Our findings suggest that several of the things we thought we ‘knew’ about leafcutters are not true.”

The research, led by co-author Ulrich Mueller, Solomon’s longtime UT collaborator and mentor, is available in both the newly published paper and a 2017 companion study, also published in Molecular Ecology.

“This study started 20 years ago as a collaboration between Brazilian and Texan labs and developed into a huge collaboration involving 22 labs surveying leafcutter ants in 17 countries,” said Mueller, the William Morton Wheeler-Lost Pines Professor in UT Austin’s Department of Integrative Biology. “Because of this international effort, we now have a comprehensive understanding of leafcutter ecology and evolution.”

Leafcutter ants are found only in the Americas. More than 40 species range from Argentina to the southern United States, and they are a dominant ecological player in any forest or grassland they inhabit.

“They aren’t the only ants that grow fungi, but if you compare leafcutter ants with other ants that grow fungi, there are many differences,” Mueller said. “For starters, no other ants use freshly cut leaves to grow their fungi.”

Ants that grow fungus on dead and decaying leaves have been around even longer than leafcutters, probably about 50 million years, Solomon said. But leafcutters’ ability to use living leaves was a quantum leap in evolutionary terms because it opened up the entire ecosystem. For example, Solomon said, the ability to consume plant matter they cannot directly digest allows a nest of leafcutters to consume about as much vegetation each year as a full-grown cow.

“Once you can use fresh leaves, it gives you access to so much more food,” Solomon said. “If you can grow and raise your crop on any leaf that’s growing out there, then the sky’s the limit.”

In comparison with other fungus-growing ants, leafcutter colonies are enormous, Solomon said. “They’re on the order of millions of individuals. Some leafcutter colonies are so large that they show up on photos taken by satellites in space.”

Leafcutters also have specialized tasks. Individual worker ants come in different sizes, and they have different jobs.

“Some are specialized on raising the young,” Solomon said. “Others are specialized on removing weeds and disease inside the nest. Others are specialized on going out and finding food, and yet others are specialized on defending the colony.

“All of the specialization is unique to the leafcutters,” he said. “With other fungus-growing ants, the workers are basically interchangeable. They don’t have these specialized tasks.

“One of the long-held truths of our field was that leafcutters grow a special and unique kind of fungus that no other ant could grow,” Solomon said. “It was thought that something about that unique crop allowed them to do these things that other fungus-growing ants couldn’t do.”

The new studies, which are the first to analyze the genes of fungi from hundreds of leafcutter colonies across the Americas, found instances where other ants grew the specialized “leafcutter-only” fungus, as well as instances where leafcutters grew more generic fungal crops.

“It’s not the crop that makes them special,” Mueller said. “We found that leafcutter ants and their fungi have co-evolved, and while that’s not a surprise, the evidence suggests that this co-evolution occurred in a more complex way than previously believed.

“For example, we found that the type of fungi that was long thought to be unique to leafcutters can be grown by other ants on dead plant material,” he said. “In one case, it’ll be grown on fresh vegetation, and in another case, it won’t.”

Solomon said, “The question is what gives this fungus the ability to digest freshly cut leaves? It’s not something that is inherent in the fungus. There seems to be something about the way the leafcutter ants are cultivating the fungus that gives it that ability.”

Solomon began collecting leaf-cutting ants and their fungi in Central America in 2002 as a graduate student in Mueller’s lab. In 2007 Solomon expanded his work, thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) international postdoctoral fellowship that allowed him to spend a year working with study co-author Mauricio Bacci Jr. at São Paulo State University in Rio Claro, Brazil. Solomon’s samples and dozens of others gathered over the years by Mueller’s and Bacci’s teams allowed the researchers to pinpoint the origin of leafcutters to South America, probably in the grassland plains of what is now southern Brazil and Argentina, Solomon said.

“We sampled tons of different nests of leafcutter ant species throughout the entire range of all leafcutters, which goes from Texas in the extreme north down to Argentina,” Solomon said. “What’s novel about our approach is how much sampling there was, particularly in South America. In the past, there has been a lot of sampling, but it was focused in just a few different regions, particularly in Costa Rica and Panama.

“It turns out the leafcutters in those places don’t represent species that live elsewhere,” he said. “By going and sampling in other places, especially in the open grasslands of southern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, we were able to show that the greatest genetic diversity of leafcutter fungi is in South America. Usually, wherever there’s the greatest genetic diversity is where a group originated. That is true for humans, and that’s just generally true of other species, and that leads us to believe the leafcutters originated in the grasslands of South America.”

Mueller said, “The study illustrates the importance in science of re-evaluating entrenched assumptions, amassing large data sets and collaborating internationally before reaching conclusions.”

Ants working together to carry a large piece of food get around obstacles by switching between two types of motion: one that favors squeezing the morsel through a hole and another to seek a path around the barrier: here.

Ants provide clues to why biodiversity is higher in the tropics. New global data of invertebrate distributions suggests time holds key to species diversity: here.

A new study in ants identifies a peptide that plays an important role in regulating reproduction. This research illuminates a potential trajectory for the evolution of distinct social castes — workers and queens: here.

New mushroom species discovery in the Netherlands


This 2014 video from Spain is about the Morchella vulgaris fungus.

A mushroom species, new for the Netherlands, has been discovered.

It is Morchella vulgaris, a species related to, and superficially looking like, the well-known yellow morel.

In the Netherlands, Morchella vulgaris had been wrongly seen as yellow morel for a long time. But now, Dutch mycologists know it lives in their country as well.

Mushrooms in the USA, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

Magic of Mushrooms – A Documentary

24 November 2017

Amazing Mushrooms – Fantastic Fungi – an all original look at dozens of unusual varieties of mushrooms in the deep, dark and moist forest. Set to ambient music you’ll see some of the prettiest, deadliest and tastiest mushrooms along the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. Some exude a creepy sense of decay – others a remarkable air of brightness and light. Keep an eye out for these overlooked jewels on your next walk in the Forest!