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Yeasts hide in many lichen partnerships

Fungus discovery challenges textbook idea of organisms’ symbiosis

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2:43pm, July 21, 2016
wolf lichen

WHAT’S IN YOUR LICHEN?  A wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina) is one of the species making scientists rethink more than a century of assumptions about what’s in a lichen.

The discovery of unknown yeasts hiding in lichens from six continents could shake up a basic idea of what makes up a lichen partnership.

For more than a century, biologists have described a lichen as a fungus growing intimately with some microbes (algae and/or cyanobacteria) that harvest solar energy. The fungus is treated as so important that its name serves as the name for the whole lichen.

Biologists have recognized that more than one fungus can show up in lichen close-ups, but their role hasn’t been clear. Now that may be on the brink of changing.

Fifty-two genera of lichens collected from around the world include a second fungus — single cells, called yeasts, of a previously unknown order now christened Cyphobasidiales. Toby Spribille of the University of Graz in Austria and colleagues report the finding online July 21 in Science.

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