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Mycologia. 2004 Jan-Feb;96(1):66-74.

Neurospora in temperate forests of western North America.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-5020, and Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3102.


The fungal genus Neurospora has a distinguished history as a laboratory model in genetics and biochemistry. The most recent milestone in this history has been the sequencing of the genome of the best known species, N. crassa. The hope and promise of a complete genome sequence is a full understanding of the biology of the organism. Full understanding cannot be achieved, however, in the absence of fundamental knowledge of natural history. We report that species of Neurospora, heretofore thought to occur mainly in moist tropical and subtropical regions, are common primary colonizers of trees and shrubs killed by forest fires in western North America, in regions that are often cold and dry. Surveys in 36 forest-fire sites from New Mexico to Alaska yielded more than 500 cultures, 95% of which were the rarely collected N. discreta. Initial characterization of genotypes both within a site and on a single tree showed diversity consistent with sexual reproduction of N. discreta. These discoveries fill important gaps in knowledge of the distribution of members of the genus on both large and small spatial scales and provide the framework for future studies in new regions and microhabitats. The overall result is that population biology and genetics now can be combined, placing the genus Neurospora in a unique position to expand its role in experimental biology as a useful model organism for ecology, population genetics and evolution.


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