According to a research team at the University of Alberta, about 600 fungi that never quite found a fit in the fungal family tree have a common ancestor. The team used genome sequencing to classify these organisms, effectively resolving the evolutionary origins of the “platypus of fungi”.
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The fungi in question are called Lichinomycetes. They include forms as diverse as earth tongues (eerie tongue-shaped mushrooms that shoot vertically out of the ground). Using DNA genome sequencing, researchers at the University of Alberta have found that this new class of fungi descended from a single origin 300 million years ago.
“They don’t have any particular feature that you can see with the naked eye where you can say they belong to the same group. But when you go to the genome, suddenly this emerges. So, I like to think of these as the platypus and echidna of the fungal world,” Toby Spribille, principal investigator on the project and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, said in a press release.
Previously these “oddball” fungi were grouped across seven different classes, according to the study. The research team also predicts that this group of fungi depends on other organisms for life.
“What is really fascinating is that despite these fungi looking so different. However, they have a lot in common at the level of their genomes,” said Spribille. “Their small genomes mean this class of fungi have lost much of their ability to integrate some complex carbohydrates.”
The findings of this new study have been published in the journal Current Biology.
This research offer insight into the broader fungal evolution. According to the research team, the findings are essential in understanding “how fungi inherit biotechnological features such as enzymes that break down plant matter.”
“We think it’s likely that the diversity we see… is just the tip of the iceberg that survived,” researchers beckoned. “And we don’t have that many examples of this kind of thing in fungi.”
For years, researchers have been using genome sequencing to understand the biology and utility of living organisms. And this study shows how scientists can use the technique to learn more about the extinction of past fungi, among other living organisms.