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J Exp Bot. 2008;59(5):1109-14. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erm342. Epub 2008 Feb 10.

More than 400 million years of evolution and some plants still can't make it on their own: plant stress tolerance via fungal symbiosis.

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  • 1US Geological Survey, Seattle, WA 98115, USA.


All plants in natural ecosystems are thought to be symbiotic with mycorrhizal and/or endophytic fungi. Collectively, these fungi express different symbiotic lifestyles ranging from parasitism to mutualism. Analysis of Colletotrichum species indicates that individual isolates can express either parasitic or mutualistic lifestyles depending on the host genotype colonized. The endophyte colonization pattern and lifestyle expression indicate that plants can be discerned as either disease, non-disease, or non-hosts. Fitness benefits conferred by fungi expressing mutualistic lifestyles include biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, growth enhancement, and increased reproductive success. Analysis of plant-endophyte associations in high stress habitats revealed that at least some fungal endophytes confer habitat-specific stress tolerance to host plants. Without the habitat-adapted fungal endophytes, the plants are unable to survive in their native habitats. Moreover, the endophytes have a broad host range encompassing both monocots and eudicots, and confer habitat-specific stress tolerance to both plant groups.

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