Long before geese started flying in chevron formation or cyclists learned the value of drafting, fungi discovered an aerodynamic way to reduce drag on their spores so as to spread them as high and as far as possible.
One fungus, the destructive Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, spews thousands of spores nearly simultaneously to form a plume that reduces drag to nearly zero and even creates a wind that carries many of the spores 20 times farther than a single spore could travel alone, according to a new study by mathematicians and biologists from the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University and Cornell University.
"In the Tour de France, riders form a peloton that can reduce air drag by 40 percent," said co-lead author Marcus Roper, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mathematics at UC Berkeley and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "The ascospores of Sclerotinia do the peloton perfectly, reducing air drag to zero and sculpting a flow of air that carries them even farther."
Presumably, this strategy helps the fungi get their spores off the ground into the foliage of their host plants, or into airstreams that can carry them to host plants, the scientists say.
Co-lead author Agnese Seminara, a postdoctoral researcher and theoretical physicist in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, added: "I realized that the spores behaved much like cloud droplets. To follow their paths, I adapted algorithms I had developed to describe cloud formation."
Roper, Seminara, and colleagues report the findings this week in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"These findings could have implications for methods of controlling the spread of fungal pathogens," said senior author Anne Pringle, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard. "Sclerotinia alone costs U.S. farmers on the order of
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California -- Berkeley