A Profusion of Fungi—the Role of Endosymbiotic Bacteria

Fungi of the diverse Mucoromycota group include many ecologically and economically important species. The name derives from the Latin mucor, for bread mold, and one subgroup is in fact a common agent of food spoilage. Not all Mucoromycota are harmful, however. Some hold potential as a sustainable, ecologically friendly alternative to phosphorous-based fertilizers. Others are used in food manufacturing because they produce polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential to human health.

Unlike other fungi, Mucoromycota commonly harbor ancient bacteria with which they have co-evolved in mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationships. Teresa Pawlowska, School of Integrative Plant Science, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section, is leading an international team to investigate how endosymbiotic bacteria that live within the cells of Mucoromycota contribute to the group’s ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Using samples of Mucoromycota from the United States and South Africa, researchers will investigate environmental and biological factors that contribute to the biodiversity of Mucoromycota, attending particularly to the role of endosymbiotic bacteria. Researchers will identify novel bacteria associated with Mucoromycota, examine evolutionary innovations emerging from these symbiotic relationships, and discover the effects of these relationships on Mucoromycota’s community structure and taxonomic diversification.

This research will elucidate how Mucoromycota communities assemble and evolve, informing strategies for their application in domains such as agriculture and medicine. Project partners include researchers from Cornell, Oregon State University, and the North-West University–Potchefstroom in South Africa.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$2 Million spanning 4 years