Category Archives: Fungi

Friday Fellow: Black Bread Mold

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow lives in our houses and our gardens, among our food and our crops. And every time we notice it, we get upset, because it means that something we were supposed to eat is now spoiled. Its name is Rhizopus stolonifer, or black bread mold.

rhizopus_stolonifer

The black bread mold growing on a peach. Photo by University of Georgia Plant Pathology Archive.*

Having a worldwide distribution, the black bread mold is mainly saprotrophic, growing on decaying fruits and bread. During its reproductive phase, it can be noticed as a black and hairy mold, as in the photo above. Eventually, this species can also cause an infection in human face and oropharynx, but most commonly it can be a pathogen of many plant species, thus being of economic concern.

rhizopus_stolonifer2

A closer look at the sporangia of Rhizopus stolonifer. Photo by Stanislav Krejčík.*

The black bread mold is a fungus of the order Mucorales, known as pin molds because their sporangia (the structures that contain the asexual spores) remember a pin. These sporangia, which are black, are what one usually notice growing on decaying food. When the sporangia are mature, they release spores of two kinds that germinate and originate two kinds of hyphae (known as + and -) and when two hyphae of opposite type come into contact, they fuse and create a zygospore, which then grows to originate new sporangia.

Due to its importance as an economic pest, there are many studies trying to find ways to get rid of it and very few studies trying to understand the fascinating things that it hides. What a pity.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life: Rhizopus stolonifer. Available at <http://eol.org/pages/2944808/overview >. Access on January 14, 2107.

Hernández-Lauzardo, A., Bautista-Baños, S., Velázquez-del Valle, M., Méndez-Montealvo, M., Sánchez-Rivera, M., & Bello-Pérez, L. (2008). Antifungal effects of chitosan with different molecular weights on in vitro development of Rhizopus stolonifer (Ehrenb.:Fr.) Vuill Carbohydrate Polymers, 73 (4), 541-547 DOI: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2007.12.020

Wikipedia. Black bread mold. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_bread_mold >. Access on January 14, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Christmas Wreath Lichen

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Celebrating Christmas (or whatever you call this time of the year), today’s Friday Fellow is another lichen. And the reason I chose it is because it is known as Christmas wreath lichen due to its red and green color.

Cryptothecia rubrocinta growing on Patagonula americana in Argentina. Photo by Wikimedia user Millifolium.*

Cryptothecia rubrocicnta growing on Patagonula americana in Argentina. Photo by Wikimedia user Millifolium.*

Scientifically known as Cryptothecia rubrocincta, the Christmas wreath lichen is found throughout the Americas, from the United States to Argentina, and usually grows on shady tree trunks. In mature specimens, three different color zones can be seen, a central grayish-green zone, an intermediate white zone, and an external red rim. The central zone is usually covered by red nodules which in some cases may hinder the visibility of the grayish-green color.

The red color is caused by a combination of a quinone, called cheidectonic acid, and beta-carotene, which together protect the organism from radiation and provides DNA repair.

Apparently, this lichen only reproduces asexually, thus not forming any sexual structures. For that reason, it was thought for some time that it could be a basidiomycete fungus, although most lichens are formed by ascomycete fungi. Nowadays, however, we know that it is actually an ascomycete. DNA extraction is difficult, though, because several microscopic fungi live inside the lichen, thus somewhat making it a very complex organism formed by several interconnected species.

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References:

Elfie Stocker-Wörgötter (2010). Stress and Developmental Strategies in Lichens Symbioses and Stress, 525-546 DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-9449-0_27

Wikipedia. Cryptothecia rubrocincta. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptothecia_rubrocincta&gt;. Access on December 16, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Witch’s Butter

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Last week I introduced a cyanobacteria that reminds me of my childhood and that is commonly known as witch’s jelly or witch’s butter. But witch’s butter is also the common name of fungus, so I thought it would be interesting to introduce it today. Its scientific name is Tremella mesenterica.

tremella_mesenterica

Witch’s butter on dead wood. Photo by Jerzy Opiała.*

Also known as yellow brain, yellow trembler or golden jelly fungus, the witch’s butter is found in all continents and appears as a lobed and curly jelly material growing on dead wood and may be mistaken as a saprobic species, a wood decomposer, but that’s not true. The witch’s butter is actually a parasite of saprobic fungi of the genus Peniophora, such as the rosy crust Peniophora incarnata.

The witch’s butter is edible, but usually considered tasteless. Some preliminary results indicate that it may reduce blood glucose levels, therefore having the potential do be developed into a hypoglycemic agent for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

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References:

Lo, H., Tsai, F., Wasser, S., Yang, J., & Huang, B. (2006). Effects of ingested fruiting bodies, submerged culture biomass, and acidic polysaccharide glucuronoxylomannan of Tremella mesenterica Retz.:Fr. on glycemic responses in normal and diabetic rats Life Sciences, 78 (17), 1957-1966 DOI: 10.1016/j.lfs.2005.08.033

Wikipedia. Tremella mesenterica. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tremella_mesenterica&gt;. Access on September 22, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Flounder Glugea

by Piter Kehoma Boll

While looking for flatfish you may eventually find one with some grotesque growth on the body, like the one in the picture below:

glugea_stephani_xenoma

A xenoma caused by Glugea stephani on a flatfish Limanda limanda. Photo by Hans Hillewaert.*

This sort of tumor is called xenoma and, in flatfish, is caused by a microscopical and parasitic fungus named Glugea stephani, or the flounder glugea.

The flounder glugea is part of a group of fungi called Microsporidia that until recently were classified as protists. They are unicellular and parasite other organisms, especially crustaceans and fish.

Once inside a flatfish, the flounder glugea enters an intestinal cell and starts to develop. They induce the host cell to increase in size and may give rise to the xenomas, which are the most extreme stage in the development of the disease. The proliferating and active stage of the glugea are free in the cytoplasm of the host cell, but they may change into a spore-like form called sporoblast that remains inside a vacuole.

glugea_stephani

Image of electron microscopy of an intestinal cell of winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) infected by flounder glugea (Glugea stephani). The S indicates sporoblasts inside the vacuole (SV) and the P the proliferating organisms inside the host cytoplasm (H). Image extracted from Takvorian & Cali (1983).

Fortunately most infections are mild and do not compromise the fish health, at least not very much…

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References:

Takvorian, P. M.; Cali, A. (1983). Appendages associated with Glugea stephani, a microscporidian found in flounder. Journal of Protozoology, 30(2): 251-256.

Wikipedia. Xenoma. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenoma >. Access on September 17, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Rosy Crust

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

If you are walking through a forest in Europe you may find the bark of some trees covered by a thin rosy or orange crust. Commonly known as rosy crust, its scientific name is Peniophora incarnata.

peniophora_incarnata

Rosy crust growing on a dead branch. Photo by Jerzy Opioła.*

As with most fungi, the rosy crust is saprobic, i.e., it feeds on dead material, in this case dead wood, so that it is more commonly found attached to dead branches. It affects a variety of plant species, especially flowering plants, but may eventually grow on pine trees.

Sometimes considered a pest because of its ability to rotten wood, the rosy crust has also some interesting benefits. It has shown to have antimicrobial activity, being a potential source for the production of antibiotics, and is also able to degrade some carcinogenic products used to treat wood, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

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References:

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Peniophora Incarnata – Rosy Crust. Available at: <http://www.eol.org/pages/1009530/overview&gt;. Access on September 22, 2016.

Lee, H., Yun, S., Jang, S., Kim, G., & Kim, J. (2015). Bioremediation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Creosote-Contaminated Soil by Peniophora incarnata KUC8836 Bioremediation Journal, 19 (1), 1-8 DOI: 10.1080/10889868.2014.939136

Suay, I., Arenal, F,, Asensio, F. J., Basilio, A., Cabello, M. A., Díez, M. T., García, J. B., González del Val, A., Gorrochategui, J., Hernández, P., Peláez, F., & Vicente, M. F. (2000). Screening of basidiomycetes for antimicrobial activities Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 78 (2), 129-140 DOI: 10.1023/A:1026552024021

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Friday Fellow: Elegant sunburst lichen

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Bipolar and Alpine in distribution, occurring in both Arctic and Antarctic regions, as well as on the Alps and nearby temperate areas, the elegant sunburst lichen (Xanthoria elegans) is a beautiful and interesting creature. As all lichens, it is formed by a fungus associated with an alga.

An elegant sunburst lichen growing on a rock in the Alps. Photo by flickr user Björn S...*

An elegant sunburst lichen growing on a rock in the Alps. Photo by flickr user Björn S…*

The elegant sunburst lichen grows on rocks and usually has a circular form and a red or orange color. Growing very slowly, at a rate of about 0.5 mm per year, they are useful to estimate the age of a rock face by a technique called lichenometry. By knowing the growth rate of a lichen, one can assume the lichen’s age by its diameter and so determine the minimal time that the rock has ben exposed, as a lichen cannot grow on a rock if it is not there yet, right? This growth rate is not that regular among all populations. Lichens growing closer to the poles usually grow quickly because they seem to have higher metabolic rates to help them survive in the colder climates.

Beside its use to determine the age of a rock surface, the elegant sunburst lichen is a model organism in experiments related to resistance to the extreme environments of outer space. It has showed the ability to survive and recover from exposures to vacuum, UV radiation, cosmic rays and varying temperatures for as long as 18 months!

Maybe when we finally reach a new inhabitable planet, we will find out that the elegant sunburst lichen had arrived centuries before us!

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References:

Murtagh, G. J.; Dyer, P. S.; Furneaux, P. A.; Critteden, P. D. 2002. Molecular and physiological diversity in the bipolar lichen-forming fungus Xanthoria elegans. Mycological Research, 106(11): 1277–1286. DOI: 10.1017/S0953756202006615

Wikipedia. Xanthoria elegans. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthoria_elegans >. Access on June 30, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Chinese caterpillar fungus

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Most of you may have heard of those terrible fungi that turn poor insects into zombies, but did you know that one of them is used in China as food? Well, what is NOT used as food by the chinese, right? Anyway, that fungus is Ophiocordyceps sinensis (previously known as Cordyceps sinensis), but you may call it Chinese caterpillar fungus.

The fungus is known as caterpillar fungus because it infects larvae (caterpillars) of several ghost moths (family Hepialidae). The caterpillars live underground in meadows of the Tibetan Plateau and feed on the roots of many plant species. They eventually may become infected by spores of the fungus, which lead them to a terrible end. Inside the caterpillar, the fungus starts to grow, filling the host with threadlike hyphae and forcing it to move upwards, closer to the surface, where it dies with the head upwards. The fungus starts to grow out from the dead caterpillar’s head and forms a small bud. After winter has passed, the bud grows upwards, emerging from the soil and forming a stalking fruiting body that releases new spores in the environment. This is the stage in which the fungus is harvested by humans, together with the caterpillar.

The fruiting body of Ophiocordypceps sinensis emerging from the head of a dead caterpillar.

The fruiting body of Ophiocordyceps sinensis emerging from the head of a dead caterpillar. Photo by Nicolas Merky.*

The fungus has several medicinal uses in Tibetan and Chinese medicine. It is considered to have aphrodisiac and anti-aging effects and is also used against cancer and to stimulate the immune system, as well as to treat respiratory and circulatory diseases, kidney and liver problems, fatigue, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, asthenia and many other ailments. Chinese medicine considers it to have an excellent balance of yin and yang, as it is “both animal and vegetable”. Several bioactive metabolites were isolated from the fungi and some of them showed antimicrobial or antitumoral activity.

As a result of this panacea-like use, the fungus has been overharvested in its natural habitat and is currently considered an endangered species in China. It is, therefore, considerably rare nowadays, and its price may be higher than that of gold. The fungus may be cultivated in a liquid culture or in grains, but attempts to raise it inside caterpillars have been unsuccessful.

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References:

Zhang, Y.; Li, E.; Wang, C.; Li, Y.; Liu, X. 2012. Ophiocordyceps sinensis, the flagship fungus of China: terminology, life strategy and ecology. Mycology 3 (1): 2–10. DOI: 10.1080/21501203.2011.654354

Wikipedia. Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_sinensis >. Access on May 26, 2016.

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