Category Archives: Fungi

Friday Fellow: Brandy Fungus

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you live near or has ever visited a distillery, you may have noticed a black stain covering part of the outer walls. It may at first look like soot, but if you look close enough you will notice it is actually some sort of life form.

This phenomenon was first observed in 1872 in the city of Cognac, France and reported by Antonin Baudoin, the director of the French Distillers’ Association. During the following years the thing was identified as a fungus that is currently named Baudoinia compniacensis and commonly known as the whiskey fungus or the angels’ share fungus but I decided to call it the brandy fungus, and I’ll explain why later.

Baudoinia compniacensis growing on the walls near its type-locality in Cognac, France. Photo by Yann Gwilhoù.*

The reason for this fungus to grow around distilleries is because it is able to metabolize ethanol as a carbon source, i.e., as food, and thrives on the ethanol vapor released from such factories. It is, however, sensitive to high concentrations of this alcohol and thus rarely grows inside the buildings, preferring the outer surfaces and nearby structures, including tree branches.

Until now, the whiskey fungus was never found in natural habitats away from ethanol emissions generated by human activities. In the wild, it probably grows around natural ethanol emissions, such as rotting fruits, but as such emissions are much less concentrated than human-generated ones, it certainly cannot grow as much as near distilleries. We can say that this species became very successful after humans started to produce alcoholic beverages on a large scale.

For many years, all fungi growing around distilleries in the world were considered as belonging to the same species, Baudoinia compniacensis. However, a recent molecular study using populations from different parts of the world revealed that they belong to different species, and each species seems to be restricted to a certain geographic location. The species Baudoinia compniacensis was found only in France. Populations in Scotland form a separate species, Baudoinia caledoniensis, and the same applies to populations in the Americas (Baudoinia panamericana), the Caribbean (B. antilliensis) and the Far East (B. orientalis). Thus, the name Whiskey Fungus does not seem to be adequate and would better fit Baudoinia caledoniensis.

Images from cultures of different species of Baudoinia. Figure F shows the brandy fungus Baudoinia compniacensis under the microscope. Credits to Scott et al. (2016).**

Anyway, the next time you see a distillery covered by a black growth, remember that it is a species that flourished because of us and our love for alcohol.

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References:

Scott JA, Ewaze JO, Summerbell RC, Arocha-Rosete Y, Maharaj A, Guardiola Y, Saleh M, Wong B, Mogale M, O’Hara MJ, Untereiner WA (2016) Multilocus DNA sequencing of the whiskey fungus reveals a continental-scale speciation pattern. Persoonia 37: 13–20. doi: 10.3767/003158516X689576

Scott JA, Summerbell RC (2016) Biology of the Whiskey Fungus. In: Li D-W (Ed.) Biology of Microfungi, Springer, pp. 413–428. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-29137-6_16

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

**Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Friday Fellow: Club-like Tuning Fork

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you are walking around in the woods sometime after heavy rains, you may see clusters of small yellow to orange slick finger-like projections coming out of the barkless wood of dead trees such as oaks and other hardwoods. These little structures are the fruiting bodies of Calocera cornea, also known as the club-like tuning fork.

Calocera cornea growing on decaying oak wood. Photo by Ashley Duval.*

The club-like tuning fork may look at first like a club fungus, but those are distant relatives. It actually belongs to a group called Dacrymycetes, which constitutes one of the many groups commonly knowns as jelly fungi. The finger-like fruiting bodies, called basidiocarps, are very variable in shape, although usually not branched, and contain several Y-shaped basidia, each carrying two spores.

With a worldwide distribution, the club-like tuning fork grows on decaying wood of several trees, both angiosperms and gymnosperms, but is more fond of hardwoods such as the oak, so it is more commonly found in temperate forests in places such as North America and Eurasia. Its hyphae never grow very deep, being restricted to the more superficial layers of wood, and are very narrow, about 1µm in diameter only, and grow parallel to the long axis of the dead cells of the wood.

Club-like tuning fork growing together with other wood-decaying fungi. Photo by Christian Schwarz.*

Although usually not a species of economic concern, some strains of the club-like tuning fork may cause considerable decay in wood objects that have not been properly treated to avoid fungus growth.

Recently, the genome of Calocera cornea has been sequenced as part of a project that is trying to determine the origins of the ability of basidiomycetes to decompose lignocellulose, the main component of the cell walls of woody plants.

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References:

Kennedy LL (1972) Basidiocarp development in Calocera cornea. Canadian Journal of Botany 50(3): 413–417. doi: 10.1139/b72-060

McNabb RFR (1965) Taxonomic studies in the Dacrymycetaceae. II. Calocera (Fries) Fries. New Zealand Journal of Botany 3(1): 31–58. doi: 10.1080/0028825X.1965.10428712

MushroomExpert.Com. Calocera cornea. Available at < https://www.mushroomexpert.com/calocera_cornea.html >. Access on 10 February 2019.

Nagy LG, Riley R, Tritt A, Adam C, Daum C, Floudas D, Sun H, Yadav JS, Pangilinan J, Larsson KH, Matsuura K, Barry K, Labutti K, Kuo R, Ohm RA, Bhattacharya SS, Shirouzu T, Yoshinaga Y, Martin FM, Grigoriev IV, Hibbett DS (2016) Comparative Genomics of Early-Diverging Mushroom-Forming Fungi Provides Insights into the Origins of Lignocellulose Decay Capabilities. Molecular Biology and Evolution 33(4):959-70. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv337

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Friday Fellow: Green mold

by Piter Kehoma Boll

At least once in your life you probably saw a rotting orange with greenish and white mould growing on its peel. This unfortunate condition is caused by the species that I am going to present today.

Penicillium digitatum growing on an orange. Photo by Alison Northup.*

Known popularly as the green mold or green rot, its scientific name is Penicillium digitatum, being closely related to a similar, but slightly bluer mold that also attacks oranges, the blue mold Penicillium italicum. As a member of the genus Penicillium, this fungus is also related to Penicillium chrysogenum, the main source of penicillin, and to several fungi used to produce cheese such as Camembert (by Penicillium camemberti), Gorgonzola (by Penicillium glaucum) and Roquefort (by Penicillium roqueforti).

Infecting exclusively fruits of species in the genus Citrus, the green mold grows and feeds on the fruit’s peel, being the main source of post-harvest decay and thus of major economic concern. The optimal temperature for the development of the green mold is 20-25 °C, although it is able to grow in a range of temperatures going from 6 °C to 37 °C. The spores of the green mold are unable to germinate at the surface of the fruits, though, and they need a fissure on the peel to start growing. However, the storage and transportation of the fruits is enough to create small fissures that are rapidly filled by the growing mycelium.

Conidiophores (spore-producing structures) of Penicillium digitatum as seen with a magnification of 40 times. Photo by Wikimedia user Ninjatacoshell.**

The green mold is known to produce ethylene, an organic gas that is a plant hormone leading to fruit ripening. It is likely that this fungus synthesizes it to induce the ripening of citrus fruits, thus increasing the substrate for its development.

Currently, the main methods used to avoid the spoilage of citrus fruits by P. digitatum include the aplication of fungicides, sometimes in massive amounts. However, as such fungicides can lead to serious environmental and health issues, and sometimes increase the public rejection, there is a demand for the development of less aggressive and more environmentally friendly options.

The genome of the green mold has been recently sequenced, being the second species of Penicillium to be sequenced (after P. chrysogenum), as well as the first main plant pathogenic fungus to have its whole genome analyzed.

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References:

Chou, T. W., & Yang, S. F. (1973). The biogenesis of ethylene in Penicillium digitatum. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 157(1), 73–82. doi:10.1016/0003-9861(73)90391-3

Marcet-Houben, M., Ballester, A.-R., Fuente, B., Harries, E., Marcos, J. F., González-Candelas, L., & Gabaldón, T. (2012) Genome sequence of the necrotrophic fungus Penicillium digitatum, the main postharvest pathogen of citrus. BMC Genomics, 13, 646. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-13-646

Plaza, P., Usall, J., Teixidó, N., & Viñas, I. (2003) Effect of water activity and temperature on germination and growth of Penicillium digitatum, P. italicum and Geotrichum candidum. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 94(4), 549–554. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2672.2003.01909.x

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Friday Fellow: Versatile Funnel Glomus

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It is time to go back to the micoscopical world and present the wonders that it contains. Today the chosen species is Funneliformis mosseae, which, as always, lacks a common name. I, therefore, decided to call it the versatile funnel glomus.

The versatile funnel glomus is a fungus of the division Glomeromycota. These fungi are characterized by forming an endosymbiotic relationship with plants through structures called arbuscular mycorrhizas, or AMs for short. This special kind of mycorrhiza is formed with the fungus growing inside the tissues and cells of plant roots. It is known that around 80% of all vascular plant families contain AMs.

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Spores of the versatile funnel glomus on tomato roots. Photo by Wikimedia user Samson90.

Our species, the versatile funnel glomus, is considered one of the most common fungi associated to plant roots. Found worldwide, it can form AMs with many different plants, including many important cultivars, such as maize, onion, tomato and many others.

Funneliformis_mosseae_spore

A single spore of the versatile funnel glomus showing the funnel-shaped base to the right. Photo extracted from Schüßler & Walker (2010).

Since the versatile funnel glomus lives inside the root tissues and cells, it is not usually conspicuous, but it can be easily identified through its spores, which are about 0.2 mm in diameter and grouped inside sporocarps. The base of the spore has a funnel shape, this being the reason for the name Funneliformis.

The association of the versatile funnel glomus with plants increases nutrient uptake by plants and can also help them cope with environments contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead, by absorbing part of the contaminant, thus reducing its deleterious effect on the plants.

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References:

Citterio, S.; Prato, N.; Fumagalli, P.; Aina, R.; Massa, N.; Santagostino, A.; Sgorbati, S.; Berta, G. (2005) The arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Glomus mosseae induces growth and metal accumulation changes in Cannabis sativa LChemosphere 59(1): 21–29.

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Glomus mosseae. Available at < http://eol.org/pages/988675/overview >. Access on July 17, 2018.

Schüßler, A.; Walker, C. (2010) The Glomeromycota. A species list with new families and new genera. Gloucester, UK.

Xu, Z.; Ban, Y.; Yang, R.; Zhang, X.; Chen, H.; Tang, M. (2016) Impact of Funneliformis mosseae on the growth, lead uptake, and localization of Sophora viciifoliaCanadian Journal of Microbiology 62(4): 361–373.

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Friday Fellow: Pear Rust

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Beautiful and deadly, today’s fellow appears during spring as gelatinous orange projections coming out of juniper trees in Europe and North America. Its name is Gymnosporangium sabinae, commonly known as the pear rust.

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The jelly-like horns of the pear rust on a juniper tree. Photo by Mark Sadowski.*

The pear rust is a basidiomycete, i.e., a fungus of the phylum Basidiomycota, therefore related to the common mushrooms, but belonging to a different class, the Puccioniomycetes.

During winter, the pear rust remains in a resting state inside branches and twigs of juniper trees. After wet days in spring, the fungus sprouts and appears as horn-like growths covered by an orange gelatinous mass, which are called telia. The telia produce wind borne spores called teliospores that can infect pear trees.

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The pear rust on pear leaves. Photo by Jan Homann.

Once reaching the pear tree, the teliospores germinate and infect the leaves of the new host. The infection appears in summer as rust-colored spots on the leaves, hence the name pear rust. In heavily infected plants, the effects of the pear rust can be severe, sometimes causing the plant to lose all its leaves.

In pear trees, the fungus produce reproductive structures known as aecia. They come out from the underside of pear leaves and produce spores called aeciospores, which are able to infect new juniper trees.

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The aecia coming out of the rust on a pear tree. Photo by H. Krisp.**

Due to the economic importance of pear trees to humans, the pear rust is a species of great concern. Some countries have policies intended to reduce the spread of the disease, such as preventing transportation of juniper trees from areas known to have the fungus to areas in which it is unknow. In areas where the fungus exist, the solutions to reduce the damage include the use of chemical fungicides, the removal of infected branches in juniper trees and sometimes the removal of any juniper tree around the areas where pear trees are cultivated.

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References:

Fraiture, A.; Vanderweyen, A. (2011) Gymnosporangium sabinae: such a beautifiul disease. Scripta Botanica Belgica 11: 193–194.

Ormrod, D. J.; O’Reilly, H. J.; van der Kamp, B. J,; Borno, C. (1984) Epidemiology, cultivar susceptibility, and chemical control of Gymnosporangium fuscum in British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Plant Pahology6: 63–70.

Wikipedia. Gymnosporangium sabinae. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnosporangium_sabinae >. Access on April 27, 2018.

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Friday Fellow: Irregular Earth Tongue

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Let’s move back to the land this week and look very close to the ground, and very close to the base of one of the main phyla of fungi, the Ascomycetes.

With the name Neolecta irregularis, usually adapted as the common name “irregular earth tongue”, this fungus can be identified in the woods of North America and Japan by its irregular and unbranched yellow fruiting bodies that appear sprouting from the ground near trees.

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Fruiting bodies of Neolecta irregularis in the USA. Photo by Walt Sturgeon.*

At first the irregular earth tongue looks just like any other fungus, but it holds a secret to the evolution of the ascomycetes, the largest phylum of these organisms. The diverse phylum Ascomycota includes both unicellular fungi, such as yeasts, which do not produce fruiting bodies, and multicellular complex fungi, usually called “mushrooms”, with well-developed fruiting bodies. For a long time it was thought that the ancestor of the ascomycetes was a yeast-like species, and that large and complex fungi evolved only later. The genus Neolecta, however, came to challenge that.

Molecular studies have revealed that the genus Neolecta is not closely related to any other ascomycete that produce fruiting bodies, but holds a basal position within the phylum, grouping with fission yeasts and other unicellular groups. This hints to the possibility that the first ascomycete was actually much more complex than previously thought and that the yeast lineages as a result of simplification.

However, there is still much to learn from the irregular earth tongue and its relatives. Most of its ecology and life cycle are still a mystery. We don’t even know for sure if it is a parasite or what. Research has to go on!

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References:

Landvik, S. (1996) Neolecta, a fruit-body-producing genus of the basal ascomycetes, as shown by SSU and LSU rDNA sequences. Mycological Research 100(2): 199-202. DOI: 10.1016/S0953-7562(96)80122-5

Redhead, S. A. (1977) The genus Neolecta (Neolectaceae fam. nov., Lecanorales, Ascomycetes) in Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany 55(3): 301-306. DOI: 10.1139/b77-041

Wikipedia. Neolecta. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolecta >. Access on February 22, 2018.

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Friday Fellow: Reishi Mushroom

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The first Friday Fellow of 2018 is here, and it is a beloved parasite from the Far East. This lovely mushroom is scientifically known as Ganoderma lucidum and has no native common name in English, being usually called the reishi mushroom, from its Japanese name 霊芝 (reishi), or lingzhi mushroom, from its Chinese name 靈芝 (língzhī).

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The beautiful and shiny kidney-shaped reishi. Photo by Wikimedia user Mokkie.*

The reishi mushroom, as other species in the genus Ganoderma and in the order Polyporales, grows on tree trunks, usually parasitizing live trees and continuing to grow on them after they die. The mature fruiting body is kidney-shaped and may or may not have a stalk, which is displaced to the side, below the concave side of the cap. The cap has a red-varnished color with a lighter rim. It is easily mistaken for some of its closest relatives, such as Ganoderma tsugae and G. lingzhi.

Traditionally used in Chinese medicine, the reishi mushroom was considered the “mushroom of immortality” and said to improve the heart and the mind. Recently, it has demonstrated, in laboratory studies, to have many potential uses for the treatment of different illnesses. For example, their fruiting bodies release polysaccharides that showed the ability to increase the cytokine production of human white blood cells, which increase anti-tumor activities. Other studies have identified compounds with potential anti-HIV activity and the ability to reduce the levels of blood sugar.

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References:

El-Mekkawy, S.; Meselhy, M. R.; Nakamura, N.; Tezuka, Y.; Hattori, M.; Kakiuchib, N.; Shimotohnob, K.; Kawahatac, T.; Otakec, T. (1998) Anti-HIV-1 and anti-HIV-1-protease substances from Ganoderma Lucidum. Phytochemistry49(6): 1651–1647. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9422(98)00254-4

Wang, S.-Y.; Hsu, M.-L.; Hsu, H.-C., Lee, S.-S.; Shiao, M.-S.; Ho, C.-K. (1997) The anti-tumor effect of Ganoderma Lucidum is mediated by cytokines released from activated macrophages and T lymphocytes. International Journal of Cancer70(6): 699–705. Doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0215(19970317)70:6<699::AID-IJC12>3.0.CO;2-5

Wang, Y.-Y.; Khoo, K.-H.; Chen, S.-T.; Lin, C.-C.; Wong, C.-H.; Lin, C.-H. (2002) Studies on the immuno-Modulating and antitumor activities of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) polysaccharides: functional and proteomic analyses of a fucose-Containing glycoprotein fraction responsible for the activities. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, 10(4): 1057–1062. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0968-0896(01)00377-7

Wikipedia. Lingzhi mushrom. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingzhi_mushroom >. Access on December 31, 2017.

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