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Research Abstracts Online
January 2010 - March 2011

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
College of Biological Sciences
College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences
Department of Plant Biology

PI: David J. McLaughlin

Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life: Resolving the Evolutionary History of the Fungi

With an estimated 1.5 million species, fungi represent one of the largest branches of the tree of life. Fungi are of profound ecological and economic importance, owing to their diverse activities as decomposers, pathogens, and mutualistic symbionts. Recently, there has been an exponential growth in multigene fungal phylogenies, with the result being a more robust phylogeny of the kingdom. Much of this growth was facilitated by the Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life project (AFTOL). Major challenges, however, remain in fungal systematics, including resolution of problematical deep nodes and establishment of fine-grained phylogenetic understanding at the tips of the tree.

AFTOL: Resolving the Evolutionary History of the Fungi, the successor to the first AFTOL project, will contribute to understanding fungal phylogeny at multiple levels, and will promote training and education in fungal biology. This study is designed around explicit hypotheses that were either not resolved by the experimental design of AFTOL 1 or are the direct result of the findings of AFTOL 1. These hypotheses will be tested through analyses of large phylogenomic datasets and selected subcellular characters. Ontologies for subcellular characters will be developed, which will promote greater integration of nonmolecular characters in fungal systematics. The specific objectives are: to resolve the deep nodes of the fungal tree of life using molecular and subcellular data; to develop new tools for fungal phyloinformatics, including construction of comprehensive trees; and to promote awareness of the fungal tree of life through outreach and training. These researchers are coordinating analysis of subcellular characters as well as studying molecular phylogenetics of selected species. They use supercomputing resources for database development and phylogenetic analyses of molecular and subcellular data. They are currently using supercomputing resources for analysis of genera of hypogeous fungi (Peziziomycotina) and Agaricomycetes.

Group Members

Rosanne Healy, Graduate Student
Alicia Knudson, Graduate Student
Arun Kumar Thiruvoth-Kottuvetta, Research Associate