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Biol Lett. 2011 Aug 23;7(4):574-7. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.1203. Epub 2011 Mar 9.

The dawn of symbiosis between plants and fungi.

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Department of Biology, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


The colonization of land by plants relied on fundamental biological innovations, among which was symbiosis with fungi to enhance nutrient uptake. Here we present evidence that several species representing the earliest groups of land plants are symbiotic with fungi of the Mucoromycotina. This finding brings up the possibility that terrestrialization was facilitated by these fungi rather than, as conventionally proposed, by members of the Glomeromycota. Since the 1970s it has been assumed, largely from the observation that vascular plant fossils of the early Devonian (400 Ma) show arbuscule-like structures, that fungi of the Glomeromycota were the earliest to form mycorrhizas, and evolutionary trees have, until now, placed Glomeromycota as the oldest known lineage of endomycorrhizal fungi. Our observation that Endogone-like fungi are widely associated with the earliest branching land plants, and give way to glomeromycotan fungi in later lineages, raises the new hypothesis that members of the Mucoromycotina rather than the Glomeromycota enabled the establishment and growth of early land colonists.

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