Nav: Home

Rotting away: Getting at the evolutionary roots of wood decay

November 10, 2016

Decay is a complex process in which organisms use a repertoire of enzymes to slowly exploit and ultimately digest their hosts. Fungi are master decayers of dead plant matter, including wood. So-called white rot fungi have the special ability to decompose the tough, recalcitrant plant polymer lignin, using enzymes that turn solid wood into a stringy, bleached pulp.

Now professor Laszlo Nagy et al., in a new publication featured in the advanced access online version of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, have created a bioinformatics tool, called COMPARE, a novel method of phylogenetic profiling to correlate the evolution of a given phenotypic trait with the pattern of gene family gain, loss and duplication in a set of genomes.

Next, they applied the strategy to the specific question of the evolution of wood decay strategies across fungi to profile each of the fungal species's genomic innovations with a focus on identifying the gene families that enable white rot fungi to decompose wood. White rot fungi can completely break down both the carbohydrates and lignin that make up the wood and bark, making them especially potent recyclers of organic material.

The research team, using data from 62 fungal genomes, not only correctly identified the expansion of peroxidases necessary for lignin degradation in white rot fungi, but also detected a large suite of genes (409 in total) that show statistically significant changes in copy number (duplication/loss events) associated with the gains and losses of white rot wood decay.

"When people think about white rot, they tend to focus on lignin, but these results show that evolution of white rot involved expansions in diverse enzymes, not just those that attack lignin," said corresponding author Laszlo Nagy.

The results have shed light on the complexity of white rot and suggest that its evolution has involved a general elaboration of the decay apparatus, including numerous enzymes with as-yet unknown functions to further explore. These enzymes and the pathways proposed to be involved in wood-decay could lead to improved technologies for biofuel production - an industry that relies on the very same enzymes as fungi use for breaking down plant cell walls. In addition, their COMPARE bioinformatics tool is versatile enough to apply to other studies looking to uncover gene pathways associated with various traits.

Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press)

Related Evolution Articles:

Prebiotic evolution: Hairpins help each other out
The evolution of cells and organisms is thought to have been preceded by a phase in which informational molecules like DNA could be replicated selectively.
How to be a winner in the game of evolution
A new study by University of Arizona biologists helps explain why different groups of animals differ dramatically in their number of species, and how this is related to differences in their body forms and ways of life.
The galloping evolution in seahorses
A genome project, comprising six evolutionary biologists from Professor Axel Meyer's research team from Konstanz and researchers from China and Singapore, sequenced and analyzed the genome of the tiger tail seahorse.
Fast evolution affects everyone, everywhere
Rapid evolution of other species happens all around us all the time -- and many of the most extreme examples are associated with human influences.
Landscape evolution and hazards
Landscapes are formed by a combination of uplift and erosion.
New insight into enzyme evolution
How enzymes -- the biological proteins that act as catalysts and help complex reactions occur -- are 'tuned' to work at a particular temperature is described in new research from groups in New Zealand and the UK, including the University of Bristol.
The evolution of Dark-fly
On Nov. 11, 1954, Syuiti Mori turned out the lights on a small group of fruit flies.
A look into the evolution of the eye
A team of researchers, among them a zoologist from the University of Cologne, has succeeded in reconstructing a 160 million year old compound eye of a fossil crustacean found in southeastern France visible.
Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?
Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought, according to a University of Southampton professor.
The evolution of antievolution policies
Organized opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schoolsin the United States began in the 1920s, leading to the famous Scopes Monkey trial.

Related Evolution Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...