Chapter 4 : Why Do They Do It?

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With little water, sparse nutrients, and temperatures swinging by 40 ºC during the course of the day, the home of is one of the most inhospitable places on the entire planet. Lichens proliferate exceedingly slowly; their symbiosis is an astonishingly successful arrangement. There are, for example, spectacular yellow displays of in the Namib Desert in Namibia, southwest Africa. Nottingham researchers used molecular markers to establish clearly the mode of reproduction in two lichen-forming fungi, and . The resulting fingerprint patterns within sets of progeny proved to be uniform, demonstrating homothallic reproduction in both fungi. As reported in , the researchers also investigated three species of found in contrasting environments. This time, spores from the same apothecium were not genetically uniform, indicating heterothallic breeding in all three species. The need of mycobionts to find new photosynthetic partners was what led the Nottingham group to describe the lichen world in terms which, within the scholarly literature, smack of the lurid. In the past, one lichen product, usnic acid, was marketed in Germany, Finland, and Russia for the treatment of athlete's foot, ringworm, lupus, and other skin conditions. Another, obtained from , has long been familiar to scientists as the litmus of indicator paper. The research by the Nottingham group points to a new and similarly diverse range of applications.

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. Why Do They Do It?, p 17-21. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch4
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1. Seymour, F. A.,, P. D. Crittenden,, and P. S. Dyer. 2005. Sex in the extremes: lichen-forming fungi. Mycologist 19: 51 58.
2. Yuan, X.,, S. Xiao,, and T. N. Taylor. 2005. Lichen-like symbiosis 600 million years ago. Science 308: 1017 1020.

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