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.
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!
– – –
– – –
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.
– – –
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.