Scientists breathe new life into 250-year-old fungal spores

Scientists breathe new life into 250-year-old fungal spores

Fungi have been gathering dust in a museum for a quarter of a year. However, the researchers managed to germinate two specimens.

In 1770, Carolus Linnaeus, the eighteenth-century botanist, the godfather of modern taxonomy, classified the Podaxis mushroom. This is a somewhat curious mushroom that thrives in harsh environments. Copies have now been stored in a museum for 250 years. But in New study Remarkably, the researchers succeeded in breathing new life into the fungi.

The Podaxis has fascinated scholars and explorers for centuries. However, little research has been done so far. This is in part because the fungus does not occur in the most common places. Researcher Benjamin Shantz-Conlon said in an interview with Scientias. nl. “It grows in the desert (not a fairly obvious place for large fungi) as well as on termite mounds – another great place.” Moreover, this occurs seasonally and at variable times. So scientists eager to get a closer look at mushrooms face a rather wild challenge: Where do we find them?

250 year old fungi
In a new study, a research team turned to an unconventional sampling site: museum collections. They asked several museums – including The Linnean Society of London and the The Natural History Museum in Denmark Various fungal spores. In the end, they were able to collect more than 200 samples from every continent except Antarctica. The tracks ranged in ages from 2 to 250 years.

The mentioned version is 250 years old. Photo: Benjamin Schantz Conlon

The researchers faced a major challenge. Because they will be able to breathe new life into copies that have been on the shelf for 250 years? Surprisingly, researchers were finally able to germinate two specimens of Podaceus collected in the 1770s and classified by Linnaeus. “It was really incredible to grow this fungus, which we knew was treated by the eminent scientist Linnaeus, in our lab,” says Schantz-Conlon. “It is amazing that we succeeded. It is more than we could have dreamed of when we started sprouting the fungal spores.”

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This means that the fungal spores of podaxis can be revived even after a quarter of a year. The results thus reveal an extraordinary ability of the Podacesis spores to survive even during long periods of drought. In addition, it indicates that the fungus can live in an inactive phase for centuries, but can germinate again when conditions allow. How special is this feature really? “We can’t say for sure,” says Schantz-Conlon. “I’ve never heard of anyone successfully germinating such ancient fungal spores. But at the same time, I’ve also never heard of people trying it. If more fungal spores were possible, museum collections could be a great source of biological and historical diversity. which can be used in recent research projects.”

The researchers took the unique opportunity to study Podaxis species more closely. “It allowed us to run experiments and examine the genome in a way that would have been impossible with dried samples,” explains Schantz-Conlon. The researchers compared Podaxis fungi that grow in deserts with those we find in termite mounds. Because what we do know is that both species are genetically and physiologically different from each other. For example, species that live on termite mounds have a smaller genome and reduced resilience to stressful conditions. This is because he may be benefiting from his association with termites.

Podaxis grows on a termite mound. Photo: Wilhelm de Beer

“In addition, Podaxis can form a large mushroom that can be up to 30 cm in size,” says Schantz-Conlon. “But from what we can see, it appears that only the species of Podaceae that grow on the mounds of termites make up the mushrooms. This would indicate the degree of specialization; something often associated with a change in the genome and physiology of the organism. These changes may be due to selective pressures. different associated with the new lifestyle, as well as changes in population size.”

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But that’s not the only interesting thing about the study. Because fungi could one day serve as medicine. “We found that Podaxis is able to produce a wide variety of chemicals,” said Schantz-Conlon. Linnaeus said this strain could be used to treat “cancer ulcers.” So I think it might be interesting to further research the potential of Podaxis to develop, say, antibiotics or other beneficial chemicals. “

At the same time, the researcher hopes to better study the strange relationship between mushrooms and termites in the future. “We know that some Podaxis species are specialized and obviously also depend on termites,” said Schantz-Conlon. “But we don’t know if their presence actually benefits termites.”

What the study shows unequivocally is that an enormous source of knowledge is stored in the museum’s collections. So it is possible that other samples will be used in the future to answer important questions in science. The museum pieces on display may not be as dry and dead as they might seem. “I know we’ve talked about that before, but I was really surprised that we were able to germinate spores of the species that Linaeus described,” Schantz-Conlon points out. “I’m still amazed at the quality of the genomes we’ve been able to produce and the experiments we’ve been able to do.”

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