As early fungi made the evolutionary journey from water to land and branched off from animals, they shed tail-like flagella that propelled them through their aquatic environment and evolved a variety of new mechanisms (including explosive volleys and fragrances) to disperse their spores and reproduce in a terrestrial setting.
"What's particularly interesting is that species retained their flagella for different lengths of time and developed different mechanisms of spore dispersal," said David McLaughlin, professor of plant biology at the University of Minnesota in the College of Biological Sciences and co-author of a paper published in the Oct. 19 issue of Nature describing how fungi adapted to life on land.
The discovery is the latest installment in an international effort to learn the origins of species. McLaughlin is one of five principal investigators leading a team of 70 researchers at 35 institutions. The group analyzed information from six key genetic regions in almost 200 contemporary species to reconstruct the earliest days of fungi and their various relations.
McLaughlin is directing the assembly of a shared database of fungal structures obtained through electron microscopy, which produces detailed images that provide clues to the diversity of these organisms. The work is funded by a $2.65 million "Assembling the Tree of Life" grant from the National Science Foundation that was awarded to Duke University, the University of Minnesota, Oregon State University and Clark University in January 2003.
The discovery provides a new glimpse into evolution of life on Earth. It will also help scientists better understand this unusual group of organisms and learn how to develop uses for their unique properties in medicine, agriculture, conservation and industry.
McLaughlin believes fungi are a valuable untapped natural resource. They play a variety of roles in nature, such as supplying plants with nutrients through mu
Contact: Mark Cassutt
University of Minnesota