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Earliest fungi may have found multiple solutions to propagation on land, new study infers

DURHAM. N.C. -- In the latest installment of a major international effort to probe the origins of species, a team of scientists has reconstructed the early evolution of fungi, the biological kingdom now believed to be animals' closest relatives.

In a report published Oct. 19 in the journal Nature, the researchers outlined evidence that the ancestors of mushrooms, lichens and various other fungi may have lost their original wiggling taillike "flagellae" on several different occasions as they evolved from water to land environments while branching off from animals in the process.

Their losses of flagellae "coincided with the evolution of new mechanisms of spore dispersal, such as aerial dispersal," said the report, whose first author is Timothy James, a postdoctoral investigator at Duke University who recently relocated to Sweden's Uppsala University and the Swedish Agricultural University. Spores are tiny biological bodies, often consisting of a single cell, that fungi and certain other organisms use to reproduce themselves.

The research team represented a collaboration of 70 scientists working at 35 different institutions, and the scientists analyzed information from six key genetic regions in almost 200 different contemporary species to decipher the earliest days of fungi and their various relations.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation under a special program that encourages large scientific collaborations to address major scientific questions related to the origins of species.

"Results from the team's research suggest new, hypothesized relationships in which fungi called chytridiomycetes, which have self-propelling flagellated spores, are most closely related to fungi with spores that lack flagella," James said in an interview.

These "unpredicted relationships link fungi that produce motile spores with fungi that have lost spore motility but evolved dispersal by explosive mechanis
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
18-Oct-2006


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