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Trends Plant Sci. 2009 Feb;14(2):64-70. doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2008.11.004. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

Green plants that feed on fungi: facts and questions about mixotrophy.

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Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CNRS, UMR 5175), Equipe Interactions Biotiques, 1919 Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier cédex 5, France.


Several green, photosynthetic plants in orchids and Ericaceae were recently found to recover carbon from the mycorrhizal fungi associated with their roots, a dual nutritional capability called mixotrophy. The physiological and cellular processes allowing carbon gain from the fungus are not well understood. We believe that this phenomenon is overlooked and propose several land plant families and ecosystems that should be investigated for possible mixotrophy. We speculate that mixotrophy allowed, in some lineages, the evolution of heterotrophic plants, that is, non-photosynthetic plants that obtain their carbon from organic compounds. Moreover, the amount of carbon gained from the fungus varies from one site to another in mixotrophs. Drawing a parallel with mixotrophy in planktonic algae, we propose some hypotheses that could account for this.

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