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Are fungal spores perfect projectiles? Evolution of ascospore shape


Fungi are important components of our ecosystem since they both provide nutrition for many animals and are major recyclers of minerals and carbon. However, many fungi are parasites on plants, animals and other fungi. Serious fungal pathogens of cultivated plants cause extensive damage and losses to agriculture and forestry. The very common species usually found in pillows cause one of the most dangerous mortal infections in persons with immuno-deficiencies. Fungi reproduction results in almost-indestructible spores, which are the major carrier of diseases. In many cases the spores are forcibly ejected clear of the parental fungus. The probability of the species to survive depends upon spores germinating far from the fruiting body where they are formed. Fungi achieve very large launch velocities, applying initial accelerations that are unmatched in the plant or animal kingdoms. Fungal-spores must minimize the air-resistance, which is the prime determinant of their range (it can deplete the launch velocity of as much as 99.997%). Can we set the shape of a “perfect projectile”? How can a spore be shaped to minimize drag, if it has never experienced air resistance? In the first part of the project we study theoretically, numerically and experimentally the fluid mechanics of spore ejection. The second part inquires into the developmental process of spore shape theoretically and experimentally. The general idea is that evolution has selected the minimum-drag shape for spore survival. We plan to observe the formation of the spores inside Neurospora tetrasperma, one of the most studied model organisms of biology.

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Rue du docteur roux 25-28
75724 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
Massimo Vergassola (Dr.)
EU contribution
No data