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Origin and Early Evolution of Plant Symbionts

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 298735

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    3 September 2012

  • End date

    2 September 2014

Funded under:

FP7-PEOPLE

  • Overall budget:

    € 209 033,40

  • EU contribution

    € 209 033,40

Coordinated by:

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

English EN

Evolution of plant-fungi interactions

A historical collection of fossilised plants at the Natural History Museum in London has given fascinating insights into plant-fungi interactions that allowed land ecosystems to develop.

Climate Change and Environment
© Thinkstock

Fungi and plants have long had an intimate association, whether harmful (some fungi are parasites) or beneficial (many fungi help plants to take up nutrients). A mutually beneficial relationship, known as symbiosis, possibly enabled rootless plants to colonise land around 450 million years ago. The EU-funded ‘Origin and early evolution of plant symbionts’ (SYMBIONTS) project is using museum collections of fossilised plants to find direct evidence for ancient plant-fungi associations. When plants are fossilised, their soft tissues are often preserved in minerals, along with the microscopic organisms living in their stems, roots and leaves. Petrified plants, plants that have been turned to stone, are particularly useful since they represent almost perfect replicas of the original specimen down to the microscopic level. Using sophisticated microscopy and imaging techniques, researchers categorised the fungi found within 200 representative samples, described newly discovered microorganisms and classified their evolutionary associations with plants. Significantly, they obtained detailed 3D images of fossil microorganisms within the earliest known plants to live on land, 407 million years ago. Two newly discovered groups, related to current day symbiotic fungi, played a vital role in evolution by helping the earliest plants obtain nutrients to survive on land. Indeed, associations between water-dwelling fungi and the earliest plants indicate that plant-fungi relationships go back to before plants even adapted to land. These water moulds, which today cause serious disease, were therefore probably important components of early land ecosystems that only later evolved into pathogens. Taken together, SYMBIONTS' results confirm that plant-fungi relationships date back to the earliest known land-dwelling plants. These ancient plant ancestors had no roots, instead developing a reliance on fungi to obtain nutrients from the soil that still exists today.

Keywords

Evolution, plant-fungi interactions, land ecosystems, symbiosis, plant symbionts

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 298735

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    3 September 2012

  • End date

    2 September 2014

Funded under:

FP7-PEOPLE

  • Overall budget:

    € 209 033,40

  • EU contribution

    € 209 033,40

Coordinated by:

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM