ANN ARBOR, Mich.---A type of fungus that's been lurking underground for millions of years, previously known to science only through its DNA, has been cultured, photographed, named and assigned a place on the tree of life.
Researchers say it represents an entirely new class of fungi: the Archaeorhizomycetes. Like the discovery of a weird type of aquatic fungus that made headlines a few months ago, this finding offers a glimpse at the rich diversity of microorganisms that share our world but remain hidden from view.
The fungal phenomenon, brought to light by researchers at the University of Michigan, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the Imperial College London and Royal Botanic Gardens and the University of Aberdeen, is described in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Science.
Although unseen until recently, the fungus was known to be extremely common in soil. Its presence was detected in studies of environmental DNA---genetic material from a living organism that is detected in bulk environmental samples, such as samples of the soil or water in which the organism lives.
"You couldn't really sample the soil without finding evidence of it," said Timothy James, a U-M assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and an assistant curator at the university's herbarium. "So people really wanted to know what it looks like."
That became possible thanks to the work of the Swedish researchers, led by mycologist Anna Rosling. The researchers were studying mycorrhizae---fungi that colonize plant roots---when they discovered that some root tips harbored not only the mycorrhizae they were interested in, but also an unfamiliar fungus.
"When culturing mycorrhizal fungi from coniferous roots we were exited to find that one of the cultures represented this unfamiliar fungus," said Anna Rosling.
Later the culture was identified as a member of Soil Clone Group 1 (SCG1), a ubiquitous
|Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan|
University of Michigan