Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jennifer Frazer's "The Artful Amoeba"

The Artful Amoeba

Jennifer Frazer is a wonderful writer, and one of the few mycologist science writers. She has a good eye for the eco-eco-devo worlds of complex symbioses, holobionts, and microbiomes.

Here are teasers for three of her recent posts. (Click on the "Read more ..." links to see her whole posts.) Her blog at Scientific American, called The Artful Amoeba has become a favorite of mine and is well worth following.

Dying Trees Can Send Food to Neighbors of Different Species via ‘Wood-Wide Web’

By Jennifer Frazer | May 9, 2015

Douglas-fir by Gary Halvorson, Wikimedia.
No tree is an island, and no place is this truer than the forest. Hidden beneath the soil of the forest understory is a labyrinth of fungal connections between tree roots that scientists call the mycorrhizal network. Others have called it the wood-wide web.  

The connections are made by the filaments of fungi that grow in and around plant roots and produce many of the forest mushrooms we know and love. They bond trees so intimately that the more you learn about them, the more it is a struggle to view any tree as an individual. Forest trees and their root fungi are more or less a commune in which they share resources in a fashion so unabashedly socialist that I hesitate to describe it in detail lest conservatives reading this go out and immediately set light to the nearest copse.   Read more ...

Root Fungi Can Turn Pine Trees Into Carnivores — or at Least Accomplices

By Jennifer Frazer | May 12, 2015

A fungal perp walk.
Springtails are little leaping insects far too small to catch the notice of the naked human eye. But with a little magnification, some of them turn out to be adorable beyond belief.
So it is with some dismay that I must relate a little story I came across when researching my last post. Because these little guys are the victims.

And here are their vicious killers. This is Laccaria bicolor, a common and edible forest mushroom. The mushrooms you see above are only one tiny and ephemeral reproductive portion of a fungal body that surrounds tree roots and sends out filaments into the soil in search of water, minerals — and apparently, springtails. It’s also an ectomycorrhizal fungus that grows in association with the roots of many trees, making that old familar barter of nutrients and water from the soil for food from the tree.  Read more ...

Swapping Symbionts Enabled Mediterranean Lichen to Conquer the Arctic 

By Jennifer Frazer | June 3, 2015

Genetic diversity of lichen fungi
In 2003, the Mediterranean coral Oculina patagonica did something that was supposed to be impossible: it destroyed bacteria that had formerly been bleaching and killing it. This was a great shock, because the prevailing wisdom is that corals do not possess immune systems like ourselves, and thus have no ability to develop immunity. 

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