Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities exposed with new DNA sequencing approach

One of the two study sites — the Nic-Te-Ha cenote in a dry seasonal tropical forest in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. Credit: Louise Egerton-Warburton

The roots of most land plants are colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which help their plant partners to grow while also influencing the wider environment. Their hidden nature has meant these fungi are poorly understood, but researchers from the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University have developed a new approach to detect and identify the many species involved in these ecologically vital communities.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal partner with around 65-75% of to provide them with nutrients from the soil in return for sugars made during photosynthesis. These fungal communities have a big impact on the types of plants that can grow in a particular location, and scientists are keen to learn more about their diversity and their ecological effects. However, the nature of arbuscular mycorrhizae means that the fungi grow within the plant tissues, so it can be tricky to tell which are present in a particular environment.

Although DNA sequencing has been used to identify around 350 of the most abundant arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in certain regions, these approaches are unlikely to give a full picture of the species in a particular environment. To better characterize the diversity of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, PhD candidate Benjamin Morgan and his supervisor Dr. Louise Egerton-Warburton developed a new technique capable of detecting the rarer fungal species in a community, paving the way for future insights into how they might vary in response to environmental changes. Their results are published in a recent issue of Applications in Plant Sciences.

Morgan and Egerton-Warburton built on…

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