Tag Archives: Ascomycota

Friday Fellow: Yellow Morel

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Time for our next fungus, and this time it is a delicious one, or at least I think so, as I have never eaten it. Scientifically known as Morchella esculenta, its common names include common morel, yellow morel, true morel or simply morel.

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A fruiting body of the yellow morel in France. Photo by Henk Monster.*

Common in North America and Europe, as well as in some parts of Asia, especially in wooden areas, the yellow morel is a popular edible fungus of the phylum Ascomycota, so it is not closely related to the more common mushrooms, but it is a relative of the truffles, for example.

Morels are usually easily recognizable due to their peculiar appearance. Appearing during spring, their fruiting body is more or less oval in shape, covered with irregular pits and ridges, and hollow.

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An open morel showing its hollowness. Photo by Wikimedia user 00Amanita00.*

Although being one of the most highly prized mushrooms, morels can give you some undesirable effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, if eaten raw or if too old. So, it is advisable to eat young mushrooms and at least blanching them before consumption. As they are hollow, it is common to eat them stuffed with vegetables or meat.

Pharmacological and biochemical studies revealed that the yellow morel has many healthy properties, such as the presence of antioxidants and substances that stimulate the immune system, as well as anti-inflammatory and antitumour properties. It is certainly a food that is worth to include in our diet, too bad that is tends to be kind of expensive…

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References:

Duncan, C. J. G.; Pugh, N.; Pasco, D. S.; Ross, S. A. (2002) Isolation of galactomannan that enhances macrophage activation from the edible fungs Morchella esculentaJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(20): 5683–5695. DOI: 10.1021/jf020267c

Mau, J.-L.; Chang, C.-N.; Huang, S.-J.; Chen, C.-C. (2004) Antioxidant properties of methanolic extracts from Grifola frondosa, Morchella esculenta and Termitomyces albuminosus mycelia. Food Chemistry, 87(1): 111-118.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2003.10.026

Nitha, B.; Meera, C. R.; Janardhanan, K. K. (2007) Anti-inflammatory and antitumour activities of cultured mycelium of morel mushroom, Morchella esculentaCurrent Science, 92(2): 235–239.

Wikipedia. Morchella esculenta. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morchella_esculenta >. Access on October 31, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Baker’s Yeast

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Living along humans for centuries, today’s Friday Fellow is certainly one of the most beloved fungi. Scientifically known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, its common names in English include baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast or ale’s yeast.

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Saccharomyces cerevisiae under the scanning electron microscope. Photo by Mogana Das Murtey and Patchamuthu Ramasamy.*

Under the microscope, the cells of this single-celled species are ellipsoid or sphere-shaped and usually show small buds from new cells growing from the larger one. But you may have seen this species being sold as tablets or grains in the supermarket, as they are used to make bread and many alcoholic bevarages, such as wine and beer, but the baker’s yeast is much more interesting than just that.

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Grains of dried but yet alive baker’s yeast as it is sold commercially.

The cells of the baker’s yeast occur naturally on ripe fruits, such as grapes, and this was likely the original source of the strains currently cultivated by humans. The yeast reaches the fruits through many wasp species that have it growing in their intestines, an ideal environment for the fungus’ sexual reproduction.

As it is easily cultivated in the lab and has a short generation time, the baker’s yeast has become one of the most important model organisms in current biological studies. It was, in fact, the first eukaryotic organism to have its whole genome sequenced more than 20 years ago.

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Saccharomyces cerevisiae growing on solid agar in the lab. Photo by Conor Lawless.**

More than giving us food and drink, this amazing yeast has increased our understanding of gene expression, DNA repair and aging, among many other things. Live long the yeast!

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References:

Giaever, G.; Chu, A. M.; Ni, L.; Connelly, C. et al. (2002) Functional profiling of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae genome. Nature 418 (6896): 387-391.

Herskowitz, I. (1988) Life cycle of the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Microbiological Reviews 52 (4): 536-553.

Wikipedia. Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccharomyces_cerevisiae >. Access on July 25, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Gray Mold

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow will show you how beauty is only a matter of perspective. Being an ascomycete fungus, it is commonly known as gray mold and is usually found growing on decaying vegetables, especially fruits such as the strawberry in the photo below:

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Gray mold growing on a strawberry. Most people would not see it as a beautiful image. Photo by Wikimedia user Rasbak.*

The gray mold has a controversial biological nomenclature, as many other fungi. The most common name is Botrytis cinerea used for its asexual stage (anamorph), which is the most common. Its sexual stage (teleomorph) is known as Botryotina fuckeliana. I guess this issue, which was common in naming fungi with rare or unknown occurrences of sexual stage, has already been settled, but as I’m not a taxonomist of fungus, I cannot speak much on the subject.

More than only having a controversial name, this fungus has also a controversial interaction with humans. It is a notable pest in wine grapes and may lead to two different infections on them. One of those is called “grey rot” and happens under wet conditions, leading to the loss of the grapes. The other is called “noble rot” and is a beneficial form of the infection that happens when the wet condition is followed by a dry one and produce a fine and sweet vine due to the concentration of sugars in the grape.

Out of the vine world, however, the gray mold is not something that you want growing on your crops. As as it attacks more than 200 species, many of them being important food crops, there is a big interest in developing strategies to reduce the damage it causes. And these strategies include the use of pesticides, plant essential oils or even other organisms that may parasitize the gray mold.

But one cannot deny that if you look closer, even the gray mold is beautiful:

Botrytis_cinerea

A beautiful tiny forest of gray mold on a strawberry. Photo by Macroscopic Solutions.**

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Wikipedia. Botrytis cinerea. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botrytis_cinerea&gt;. Access on June 2, 2017.

WILLIAMSON, B., TUDZYNSKI, B., TUDZYNSKI, P., & VAN KAN, J. (2007). Botrytis cinerea: the cause of grey mould disease Molecular Plant Pathology, 8 (5), 561-580 DOI: 10.1111/j.1364-3703.2007.00417.x

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Friday Fellow: Scarlet Elf Cup

por Piter Kehoma Boll

If you like to pay attention on mushrooms growing on the forest soil, you may have found this little fellow sometimes, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. Scientifically known as Sarcoscypha coccinea, its common names include ruby elfcup, scarlet elf cup, scarlet elf cap, or simply scarlet cup.

The scarlet elf cup is an ascomycete, so it is more closely related to morels and truffles than to more famous gilled umbrella-shaped mushrooms. Its cup-shaped fruiting body has a bright red color on the inside and a white color on the outside. It can be found growing on decayed wood in forests of North America and Europe, although it has also been recorded in Australia and Chile.

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Beautiful scarlet elf cups growing on a a fallen log. Photo by geograph user ceridwen*

The fruiting bodies of the scarlet elf cup may vary depending on the environmental conditions. Usually those growing on buried wood in places protected from wind are the greatest, while those growing on wood above the ground and being exposed to wind are usually smaller. There is no agreement on whether the fruiting bodies are edible or not. Some authors consider it edible, while other do not recomend its ingestion. However, there are some records of people eating it, and it is also used as a medicine by Native American peoples, such as the Oneida people.

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References:

EOL. Encyclopedia of Life. Sarcoscypha coccinea. Available at < http://eol.org/pages/1009245/overview >. Access on March 1, 2017.

Wikipedia. Sarcoscypha coccinea. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcoscypha_coccinea >. Access on March 1, 2017.

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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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