Adaptations of symbiotic fungi
We aim to uncover the key molecular and morphological adaptations of symbiotic fungi cultivated by fungus-growing ants, which will allow a better understanding of the underlying evolutionary forces that shape symbiotic interactions.
The evolutionary forces and initial adaptations governing the establishment of symbiotic interactions are not well understood, and it remains largely unknown how natural selection on the genome drives adaptation of transcriptional regulation during the formation of symbiotic interactions. Neo-tropical Fungus-growing ants provide an excellent system for studying the factors influencing mutualistic evolution and symbiotic adaptation.
Fungus-growing ants cultivate highly specialized symbionts externally in a fungus garden, which offers unique opportunities for experimentation and in vitro isolation. There are more than 230 species of fungus-growing ants that are characterized by co-evolution with basidiomycete leucocoprinaceous fungi. However only a single, evolutionary derived sub-group of the cultivated fungi are obligately dependent on the ants and possess specific morphological adaptations to a symbiotic lifestyle in the form of inflated hyphal tips called gongylidia.