Category Archives: zygoblitz

Zygolife visitors to UC Riverside

In early April the Stajich lab at UC Riverside hosted several visitors from our ZyGoLife collaborative team in sunny California. The week started with a visit from Nicole a graduate student at Univ of Florida who came to sample soils and dung on the hunt for elusive mycoparasites in the Zoopagomycotina lineage. Her graduate training with Prof Matthew Smith with input from Dr Gerald Benny is helping her become an expert in mycoparasites like Syncephalis and Piptocephalis.

One collection site was near an old spring fed trough probably built by some of the recent ranching settlements of area but likely used by the native Americans who live here well before. More on the history of the Granite Mountains.
We got to catch a desert sunset over the Kelso Dunes
A view of the Sweeny Granite Mountain Desert Center

Nicole gathered soils from the UC Reserve Sweeney Granite Mountain Desert Research Center in the Mojave National Preserve. Thanks to Jim and Tasha who manage the reserve for showing us around and helping to identify some standing water and seeps for collecting soils. Nicole used Baermann funnels to isolate nematodes from these samples to find nematophagous fungi  infecting these nematodes in these desert soils.  We trekked around to some of the places where there is standing water from springs in the mountain to try to find areas with some moisture that keep nematodes and fungi happy.

Nicole sampling standing water and soils in the Granite Mountains Desert Research Center.

In all, Nicole spent over a week of sampling in Southern California following some of the  same sampling areas established by R. K. Benjamin in his extensive discovery and classification of zygomyceteous fungi.  Thanks also to Stajich lab member Tania for helping give Nicole a place to stay and show her around Riverside. We also got help in setting up space for funnels by nematode expert at UCR Paul De Ley.


We also welcomed Javier Tabima from Joey Spatafora‘s lab at Oregon State for another week to work with Yan Wang and Jason Stajich on Basidiobolus comparative genomics.

Javier Tabima (Center) with Ying Chang (Left) and Joey Spatafora (Right) during “Zygofornia” zygolife workshop at UC James Reserve April 2018

Javier recently joined the Oregon State team after completing his PhD work with Nik Grunwald (Oregon State University and USDA ARS). He is tackling some of the comparative genomics analysis of the multiple Basidiobolus genomes and exploring ploidy, genome duplication, and metabolite diversity potential of these species.



First Zygoblitz and ZyGoLife project meeting

The ZyGoLife team had our first all hands project meeting hosted by Co-PI Matthew Smith in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. We gathered for three days to organize several of the data collection themes and design some of the experiments we are planning. It was a great ‘kick off’ to our project where we got to interact with each other and through video chats with teams members who could not attend. The project has several foci intended to capture, analyze, and interpret the biological diversity of the early diverging fungi using genomic approaches integrated with information on the life history and ecologies of these fungi.ZygoLife-for-Life-group-picture


The project is sequencing genomes in collaboration with the JGI and 1KFG projects and in our labs in order to develop a high quality reference set of genomes from the major lineages of zygomycete fungi. This will provide confidence in the placement and branching order of these fungi, which is currently somewhat unresolved. We are also sequencing targeted markers or light draft genomes to sample the diversity of zygomycete fungi within culture collections. This includes the pioneering sampling conducted by Dr. R. K. Benjamin and continued by Dr. Gerald Benny (among others) . Dr Benny is a collaborator on this project and we are thrilled to have his expertise in the systematics, taxonomy, and biology of zygomycete fungi.

We also spent one morning at the Ordway-Swisher Biological Endogene_ORDSWISHER_1Reserve on a “Zygoblitz” (derived from Mycoblitz,  which was derived from Bioblitz) where we focused on collecting samples of soil, insects, and dung which would be likely to contain zygomycetous fungi. This provided cross-training on species collection and identification among  groups where new specimens and cultures are needed.  One focus was lEndogone_truffle_UFooking for Endogone  species. These are small truffle-like fungi that fruit in or on soil, leaf litter, or decayed wood. Although widespread, these fungi are infrequently collected and are difficult to culture and to identify. Our team was lucky enough to find a fresh collection of Endogone cf. pisiformis at the Ordway-Swisher reserve.

Merlin White showed how to dip for aquatic insects in the lakes we Merlinvisited in order to sample trichomycete fungi that inhabit the guts of insects. The techniques required to isolate these fungi are challenging, so it was great to have a master show us how to work his magic. Similarly, Gerald Benny presented an excellent overview of the major lineages in the Mucormycotina fungi and provided perspective on how much is really know the taxonomy and systematics of this lineage. Andrii Gryganskyi also entertained us with a humorous and detailed demonstration on how to culture Conidiobolus species from soil or leaf litter and Basidiobolus species from frog excrement.

Many of the team members setup EOL accounts in order to create and curate species pages about zygomycete fungi. As part of our project, herbarium staff members and students in our mycology courses will put together EOL species pages for zygomycete fungi. Although a few EOL pages have been created for select species, there are still plenty of taxa that need attention.

This first meeting will be followed up by impromptu gatherings at the upcoming Fungal Genetics 2015 meeting and MSA 2015 meeting. We also hope to run several more Zygoblitzes with additional training for students and others who want to learn to collect and identify zygomycete fungi.