The secret language of microbes

April 15, 2016
Fusion of two fungus germlings

Fusion of two fungus germlings, which evidently were able to successfully communicate. N. Louise Glass photo.

Fungi communicate by chemical signals only, but they, like humans, appear to use different dialects.

This discovery came from a UC Berkeley study of the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa, a red bread mold that has been studied in the laboratory for nearly 100 years.

Many fungi, including N. crassa, grow as filaments or hyphae that often fuse to form an interconnected network. Hyphal networks have been shown to be important to many fungi, including the mycorrhizal fungi that form associations with plant roots, sharing nutrients.

Senior author N. Louise Glass, a professor of plant and microbial biology, said that the finding could help scientists understand how fungi communicate and cooperate for destructive purposes, such as plant diseases and animal mycoses, as well as beneficial purposes, such as symbiotic associations with plants. fusing fungi Fusion of two fungus germlings, which evidently were able to successfully communicate.  

“Our findings reveal a heretofore underappreciated complexity in fungal communication,” Glass said. “We have only scratched the surface on communication and interactions of these enigmatic organisms.”

Glass and postdoctoral fellow Jens Heller study communication in fungi — in particular, how they recognize their own kind. To fungi, their own kind don’t necessarily include their nearest relatives, but rather fungi with whom they share one or more genes. 

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Each of these two strains of the fungus Neurospora crassa, stained “green” and “red,” fuses only with its own kind. Although they may touch each other, they do not become one unless they are of the same strain. In this video, black arrows point to meetings between two different strains, and the yellow arrows point to the communication and fusing of two like strains. (N. Louise Glass video)