Informing the Genealogy of Life through the lens of fungal symbioses

Professor A Elizabeth Arnold, from the School of Plant Sciences and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, will present the Department of Biological Sciences seminar with a talk entitled, "Informing the Genealogy of Life through the lens of fungal symbioses". 

As a unifying feature of living things, symbiotic interactions link all levels of biological organization: the content and expression of genomes, the branching of the tree of life, the composition of biological assemblages, and the structure and function of ecosystems. Organisms such as plants are interdependently connected in nature with diverse symbionts, especially fungi, in interactions that are beneficial to both (mutualism, and decomposition of dead plant material for nutrient cycling) or detrimental to one partner (parasitism). Therefore, plant and fungal biology cannot be fully understood without the context of their symbiotic interactions. The approximately 100,000 known species of fungi represent only a tiny fraction of the estimated 5.1 million species of fungi present in nature. A large fraction of this unknown fungal diversity is endophytic, hidden within healthy plants, lichens, and macroalgae. Our international team of mycologists, lichenologists, phycologists, and botanists seeks to fill the largest phylogenetic void in the fungal genealogy of life through a global study of endophytes, through which we aim to integrate ecological, evolutionary, genomic, and functional traits in a robust phylogenetic and bioinformatics framework. Our sampling focuses on hotspots of plant diversity and endemism that are biogeographically distinct from one another and represent high anticipated richness. Our approach employs culture-based and culture-independent methods to uncover new species and phylogenetically deep fungal lineages, while informing functional, ecological, and evolutionary aspects of symbiotic interactions between fungi and their photosynthetic partners. In this presentation I will describe the motivation for our project, our approaches, and our findings to date.

Wed, 12 Jun 2019 - 13:00

Pearson BIO Lecture Theatre, Upper Campus, UCT