Species of Syncephalis (Zoopagales) are generally considered to be obligate, haustorial, biotrophic parasites of other zygomycetous fungi (Mortierellomycotina and Mucoromycotina) in nature. They can be commonly isolated from environmental soil and dung substrates and maintained in dual cultures in the lab. However, Ellis (1966) developed a medium capable of growing several Syncephalis species in pure culture without their host fungi.
The secret ingredient is beef liver. Some species of Syncephalis can be inoculated onto a cube of liver and grow as luxuriously as on their Mucoralean host fungi. Here in the Smith lab we were able to replicate Ellis’s success and grow four different species of Syncephalis on beef liver media.
Growing Syncephalis without its host is more important than ever. In the age of whole genome sequencing, acquiring enough pure tissue and DNA remains a technical limitation for many organisms, particularly when they grow biotrophically in or on a host.
Zygomycetes comprise ancient lineages of Fungi that include plant symbionts, animal and human pathogens, and decomposers of a wide variety of organic compounds. Zygomycetes are thought to be among the first terrestrial organisms and symbiotic associations with zygomycetes apparently facilitated the origin of land plants. They represent one of the earliest origins of multicellularity and the filamentous body plan and polar cell growth that characterize most species of fungi. Zygomycete fungi are also used in numerous industrial processes (e.g., organic acid production) and fermentation of foods (e.g., tempeh, soy sauce). Despite these critical ecological roles, key morphological innovations, and importance to human civilization, this group of fungi remains understudied and little is understood about their evolutionary relationships. ZyGoLife will resolve the evolutionary relationships through integration of numerous types of data, including genome sequencing and analyses, discovery and description of zygomycete fossils, development of enhanced tools for detecting zygomycetes in the environment, and elucidation of novel morphological characteristics through state-of-the-art bioimaging. In addition, the project will develop educational resources for schools and the general public in order to highlight the importance of this poorly known group of Fungi.