Light perception is one of the most important sources of information for life on Earth. Its importance is such, that several microbial eukaryotic lineages independently evolved analogous sub-cellular ‘eye-structures’ to achieve a similar function. In the microbial lineages we see a similar ‘recipe’ for these systems; a light occluding or refractory surface positioned next to an action potential-generating opsin rich membrane layer. These systems represent one of the most spectacular cases of multiple convergent evolution of a cellular system.
Recently, one such eye-organelle structures was described in the early-diverging zoosporic fungi Blastocladiella emersonii (Be). This putative organelle relies on a unique fusion protein (CyclOp), of a rhodopsin domain and a guanylyl cyclase domain to perceive light. Due to the capability of the CyclOp protein to control the intracellular cGMP levels of the cell, it has been intensely studied as an optogenetic tool for signalling-dependent studies. These results highlight the importance of discovery science in non-standard model microbes. However, we still do not know which cellular and molecular elements compose the wider CyclOps-system and how they interact with each other. What is more, the evolutionary history and origin of the organellar protein network remains unknown.
The FungEye project aims to characterize the cellular structure, proteome and evolutionary ancestry of this novel light perception organelle. For this we will reconstruct the complete 3D cell architecture of Be zoospores to understand this cellular structure and characterize the wider protein network of the CyclOps-system. Once characterized, we will be able to reconstruct the CyclOps-organelle evolutionary history through its proteome by phylogenomics. Such progress will not only allow us to study how light perception evolved in fungi but also to identify functions useful for building synthetic light perceiving cellular systems.
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