The life style of ectomycorrhiza fungi is some 100 million years younger than the life style of their ancestors within the white and brown rot fungi. The key genome adaptation enabling fungi to associate with roots in order to establish a symbiosis evolved independently and repeatedly in different lines of fungi over time. This conclusion was drawn by an international team of researchers who performed the first comprehensive comparative phylogenomic analysis of mycorrhiza fungi. The results of this study were published online on February 24, 2015 in an open-access article in Nature Genetics. The article was titled “Convergent Losses of Decay Mechanisms and Rapid Turnover of Symbiosis Genes in Mycorrhizal Mutualists.” The reported analysis provides crucial information on how the symbiosis between fungi and trees evolved. This information will enable scientists to improve their prediction of the reaction of mycorrhizal communities to environmental modifications such as changes in forest management or climate. Three scientists of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) contributed to this discovery that also received support from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. Ectomycorrhiza fungi live on the roots of trees, to which these fungi deliver soil minerals, in exchange for sugar produced by the trees via photosynthesis. Almost all land plants establish similar kinds exchange relationships with fungal communities in their root vicinity. Mycorrhiza soil fungi play an important role in terrestrial ecosystems because they regulate the below-ground cycling of matter and carbon. In addition, they link different plants together by a common mycelial network that promotes exchanges within the vegetation.
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