Spores transported by animals lack the drag-minimizing shapes seen among airborne spores, says co-author Anne Pringle, a mycologist.
"A well known ascomycete, the truffle, spreads its spores when it is eaten and egested by animals," says Pringle, assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Other ascomycetes encase their spores in a goo which is then spread by insects. These animal-dispersed spores do not exhibit particularly drag-minimizing shapes."
"We can see the signature of natural selection in this very simple principle that cuts across a range of species," Pringle says. "It is a real leap forward in our understanding of the biology of a mega-diverse group of microorganisms, showing how they manipulate and respond to their environment."
The unusual marriage of mycology and applied mathematics was fostered at Harvard by the physical proximity of disparate facilities such as high-speed cameras Roper used to photograph spore release and the 130-year-old Farlow Library, which ranks among the world's strongest mycological and botanical collections.
"This collaboration represents exactly the type of opportunity that is unique and special about Harvard," says co-author Michael P. Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "The work combines diverse fields -- mycology and applied mathematics -- in synergistic and truly collaborative ways, with a critical contribution coming from Harvard's remarkable collections."
|Contact: Steve Bradt|