Fungal Mating in the Most Widespread Plant Symbionts?
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are relevant plant symbionts whose hyphae and spores carry hundreds of coexisting nuclei with supposedly divergent genomes but no sign of sexual reproduction. This unusual biology suggested that conventional fungal mating is not amendable to optimize strains for plant growth, but recent evidence of sexual-related nuclear inheritance in these organisms is now challenging this widespread notion. Here, we outline our knowledge of AMF genetics within a historical context, and discuss how past and new information in this area changed our understanding of AMF biology. We also highlight the mating-related processes in AMF, and propose new research avenues and approaches that could lead to a better application of these organisms for agricultural and environmental practices. Trends The mycelium of AMF contains thousands of coexisting nuclei that move within a single cytoplasm. AMF are considered ancient asexual organisms. Their observed genetic stability is puzzling in the absence of sexual processes. While past genetic analyses based on single genes and fingerprinting techniques have disagreed on the genetic makeup of the fungal mycelium (homokaryotic or heterokaryotic), recent whole-genome analyses revealed that mycelia could be either homo- or heterokaryotic. The discovery of a basidiomycete-like mating type ( MAT ) locus indicates that AMF could undergo conventional homokaryote-like and dikaryote-like life stages usually driven by mating in other fungi.
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