fungi

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There’s a Fungus Among Us and It's Making Peppers Spicy

Though the heat of the chili pepper has taken our culinary adventures to great heights, the spiciness of chili peppers was not designed to attract hungry diners. Spiciness actually evolved to defend the plant against fungal predators.

Peppers, like many fruits, are colorful, sweet, and appetizing, designed to attract animals that help bring seeds to new ground. But along with inviting animals beneficial to the plant’s survival, fruits also lure consumers that destroy seeds. Thus, fruit chemistry hangs in a delicate balance. The chemicals produced by the fruit must keep predators at bay, but must also not negatively affect seed dispersers. (more…)

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Meet a Microbiologist: Marcos Voutsinos

While most of us worry about the ripeness of our bananas, Marcos Voutsinos has been preoccupied with something else: the banana freckle. Despite its innocuous name, banana freckle is actually a fungal disease caused by the fungus Phyllosticta cavendishii and characterized by “freckles” of fungus on the banana fruit, leaves, and stems. The fruiting bodies of P. cavendishii can spread up to 1 km during the tropical monsoonal weather making this microorganism a serious concern for the $600 million Australian banana industry. (more…)

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Meet a Microbiologist: Jesus Romo

Growing up, Jesus Romo never thought he would become a microbiologist. “I actually wanted to be a paleontologist as a kid and [my parents] always bought me books about dinosaurs and dinosaur toys,” he says. Now Jesus is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at San Antonio studying fungus in the lab. When not in the lab, Jesus enjoys investigating fungi of another kind: the mushroom.

Originally from Coahuila, Mexico, Jesus immigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was 10 years old. After a year of frustration and not wanting to go to school because he did not know the language, Jesus quickly became fluent in English. He attended the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) as an undergraduate while working six nights a week. Though he did well in his courses, he had no idea undergraduate research opportunities existed. He took a microbiology laboratory course in his last semester and the instructor thought he would make a good teacher and recommended he look into graduate school (more…)

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The underground social network between trees

When I picked up Peter Wohlleben's book The Hidden Life of Trees, I expected to read about interactions between fungi and plant life. And indeed, the fascinating relationships between these diverse life forms were discussed at great depths. Together, tree roots and fungi form the mycorrhiza which some have referred to as the Wood Wide Web. Fungi are fundamental to the underground social networks that trees use to communicate to one another, to warm others of danger, and to transport nutrients and water.

This symbiotic Wood Wide Web provides nutrients to the tree and the fungi. Trees that cooperate with fungi take in about twice as much nitrogen and phosphorus than plants that tap the soil alone. Fungi also filter out heavy metals and guard the tree against destructive bacteria or fungi. For their help, the fungi get something in return. Nearly a third of the tree's total food production is shuttled to the fungi. (more…)