Farmer Fungus

Morchella crassipes Humans think they’re so smart, giving themselves credit for inventing stuff like the the wheel, fire, and agriculture. Well think again, because we’re not the first to invent farming. Cultivation of crops for nourishment has evolved a few times among eukaryotes. The best known examples include ants, termites, beetles, and, around 10,000 years ago, humans. It turns out that the soil fungus Morchella crassipes acts as a bacterial farmer, involving habitual planting, cultivation and harvesting of bacteria.

It’s fairly obvious what the fungus gets out of this arrangement – it’s in it for all the lovely reduced carbon those tasty bacteria provide. But what about the bacteria – do they get some benefit from the arrangement? It seems that they might. Soil is not the easiest medium for cells to disperse in, and by using the fungal hyphae as a sort of motorway network, this would seem to be more of a mutualistic arrangement, albeit one in which some of the cells wind up as lunch for the farmer.

Bacterial farming by the fungus Morchella crassipes. (2013) Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1773), 20132242.

 

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