Research Fellows Directory
Professor Duncan Cameron
University of Sheffield
In excess of 80% of plants, from pole to pole, engage in a mutualistic symbiosis with soil fungi called mycorrhiza (literally meaning “fungus-root”). In the classical view of the mycorrhizal symbiosis, the plant gives sugars (synthesised through photosynthesis) to the fungus partner and in return, the plants receives mineral nutrients, most significantly nitrogen and phosphorus. However, about 10% of plants produce seeds or spores that are so small that they do not have enough carbon and mineral nutrients to germinate unaided. In these plants, all of these resources required for germination and establishment are provided by the fungus partner (mycoheterotrophy) and so the plant is effectively parasitic on the fungus. We usually view fungi as parasites and pathogens of plants and animals rather than victims of parasites themselves and so the observation that some plants have become parasitic on fungi is striking. Moreover, mycoheterotrophy is a widespread and common strategy for seedling recruitment, and is employed by many of the worlds’ most rare and threatened plant species, including almost all orchids, but despite the ecological importance of the mycoheterotrophic habit, virtually nothing is known about the mechanisms through which 10% of all plants have evolved to parasitise fungi. In order to conserve these often rare keystone species, we urgently need to understand their basic biology.
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