Monday 7 July 2014

British fungal firsts at Gatwick!

We've had a pretty awesome update from local fungi expert, Nick Aplin... coming about 3 months late due to my email filter sending important things to my junkmail!!

Nick and the Sussex Fungi Group at Upper Picketts Wood, November 2013

You might bump into the affable Mr Aplin about the Gatwick woodlands, where he keeps a sharp eye out for unusual fungi species (which to me would be just about all of them). Some of these finds are extremely cryptic and I'm still blown away by how he does it. More incredibly, one of Nick's most recent findings has been previously unrecorded in Britain!

Arecophila striatispora growing on Pendulous Sedge. Photo by Nick Aplin

Ok, so it might be hard to know what we are looking at here...This is a fungus growing within the tissue of a plant, specifically Pendulous Sedge. Fungi which can be found within plants are called endophytes; they are not highly visible, but they can have very complex relationships with their host plant and we are finding out new things about them all the time. For example, some species might be harmful to their host, whereas others can share nutrients and may even protect them from disease.

Ascospores of Arecophila striatispora (Photo by Nick Aplin). Each ascus contains several spores

It is incredible to think how a relationship between two distinct organisms like this might have evolved, possibly one was coerced into becoming reliant on the other (in the world of psychotherapy this is described as codependency and is generally discouraged in humans).
   This particular fungus belongs to the group Ascomycota, as it produces reproductive spores in a little sac called an 'ascus'. This feature helps us to classify certain fungi and with clever tests such as staining the asci with iodine, we can narrow them down to the particular genus or species.

Nick's home lab set up: Brunel SP150 microscope. The scope at the top is a Nikon camera adapter which boosts the magnification, useful whether dissecting or simply photographing specimens

This species has been confirmed by the experts in Europe as Arecophila striatispora, previously unrecorded in our fair isles and so is a great achievement for Nick. Also, kudos to the guy for not slicing off his fingertips during some incredibly fiddly dissection work.
   But that's not the end of it, because Nick has recently discovered yet another first for Britain on our site! 

Gnomonia amoena fruiting body on the petiole of a Hornbeam leaf (Photo by Nick Aplin)

This rather disturbing looking thing is the fruiting body of a fungus (Gnomonia amoena), growing on the stem of a Hornbeam leaf. Have you ever seen the movie Dreamcatcher? It reminds me of the sinister (and gross) alien in that. 
   Apparently, this sinister looking thing belongs to a group of fungi which are very harmful to trees, but luckily this particular species is quite benign (unless you happen to be an individual Hornbeam leaf, then you should RUN.)
Gnomonia amoena ascospores, showing a reaction with iodine causing staining at the tips

As you can tell from the characteristic ascospores (you can, right?) this is another ascomycete species. It was found on leaves at the base of our very old and rather impressive Hornbeam tree in Lower Picketts Wood...

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). This beauty is a impressive size and the photo doesn't do it justice

The other cool thing is that Nick has yet another tricky specimen in the pipeline, which he is also waiting to get confirmed as a British first...

Cross-section of plant tissue, revealing the as yet unknown species (Photo by Nick Aplin) is another ascomycete

I always look forward to the next update from Nick with his latest macro shots. You can check out more of the beautiful fungal underworld in this album: Nick's fungi at Gatwick.

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