Fungal variety shaped by evolutionary explosions of complexity •

Scientists have long observed that fungi come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, these differences – referred to in the scientific community as the “disparity” of a group – had never been thoroughly analyzed. Now, a research team from the University of Bristol has found that the vast anatomical variety of fungi stems from evolutionary bursts in multicellular complexity.

“Before our analyses, we did not know how this variety was distributed among different types of fungi,” said study lead author Thomas Smith, who conducted the research at the School of Earth Sciences. of Bristol. “Which groups are the most varied when considering all parts of the fungal body plan? Which are the least? How has this variety accumulated and diminished over time? What has shaped these patterns of disparity?These are the questions we sought to answer.”

Their investigation revealed that fungal disparity evolved episodically over time, with the evolution of multicellularity in different types of fungi opening the door to greater morphological variety. The researchers found increases in diversity linked both to the emergence of the first multicellular fungi, and later to the evolution of complex fruiting bodies such as mushrooms or saddles in dikaryotic species, which contain cells with two nuclei. distinct.

According to the scientists, these results align with those of previous studies analyzing animal disparity: animals and fungi are characterized by clumped distributions of anatomical variety that have evolved intermittently over time. “The world of mushrooms is defined by bright colors, strange shapes and strange tomies. Our analyzes demonstrate that this breathtaking anatomical variety evolved in spurts, driven by evolutionary increases in multicellular complexity,” Smith said.

These discoveries bring scientists one step closer to characterizing, visualizing, and analyzing the disparity of all multicellular life. In future studies, starting with in-depth analyzes of plants and algae, they aim to combine the datasets characterizing the disparity of the fungal, plant and animal kingdoms in order to expand and refine their taxonomy.

The study is published in the journal Nature ecology and evolution.

By Andrei Ionescu, Personal editor

Sharon D. Cole