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Unique and common traits in mycorrhizal symbioses

Abstract

Mycorrhizas are among the most important biological interkingdom interactions, as they involve ~340,000 land plants and ~50,000 taxa of soil fungi. In these mutually beneficial interactions, fungi receive photosynthesis-derived carbon and provide the host plant with mineral nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange. More than 150 years of research on mycorrhizas has raised awareness of their biology, biodiversity and ecological impact. In this Review, we focus on recent phylogenomic, molecular and cell biology studies to present the current state of knowledge of the origin of mycorrhizal fungi and the evolutionary history of their relationship with land plants. As mycorrhizas feature a variety of phenotypes, depending on partner taxonomy, physiology and cellular interactions, we explore similarities and differences between mycorrhizal types. During evolution, mycorrhizal fungi have refined their biotrophic capabilities to take advantage of their hosts as food sources and protective niches, while plants have developed multiple strategies to accommodate diverse fungal symbionts. Intimate associations with pervasive ecological success have originated at the crossroads between these two evolutionary pathways. Our understanding of the biological processes underlying these symbioses, where fungi act as biofertilizers and bioprotectors, provides the tools to design biotechnological applications addressing environmental and agricultural challenges.

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Fig. 1: Major mycorrhizal types.
Fig. 2: Arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis in extant bryophytes.
Fig. 3: Unique and common traits in mycorrhizal interactions.

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Acknowledgements

The authors apologize to colleagues whose work could not be cited due to space limitations. The authors are grateful to A. Desirò for agreeing to share Fig. 2 and to D. Chamberlain and J. Mach for language editing. Contributions to this Review were partially funded by Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Cuneo (Bando Ricerca Scientifica 2015 — project AM-FOR-Quality) and by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 727929 (TOMRES).

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Glossary

Angiosperms

Vascular plants with seeds and flowers; they are the largest and most diverse group within the kingdom Plantae.

Saprotrophic

A mode of microbial nutrition based on the extracellular digestion of dead or decaying organic matter.

Biotrophism

The nutritional strategy of a pathogen or a mutualist that needs its host to stay alive.

Rhynie chert

An Early Devonian sedimentary deposit located in Scotland and exhibiting exceptionally well preserved fossils of plants, fungi, lichens and animals from an early terrestrial ecosystem.

Gymnosperms

A group of vascular, non-flowering seed-producing plants that includes among conifers, cycads and Ginkgo biloba.

Gnepine hypothesis

According to this hypothesis on the evolution of gymnosperms, gnetophytes are a sister group of the Pinaceae.

Bryophytes

An informal group of early diverging, non-vascular plants, consisting of three divisions: liverworts, hornworts and mosses. All of them are characterized by a dominant gametophytic phase.

Auxotrophs

Organisms that are unable to synthetize a particular organic compound that is required for their own growth.

Cyanobacteria

A group of photosynthetic, nitrogen-fixing bacteria forming filamentous colonies arranged in a gelatinous sheath.

Protocorms

Intermediate tuber-like structures derived from the embryo after germination of orchid seeds and before seedling development.

Meristems

Plant tissues consisting of proliferating stem cells (meristematic cells) that generate tissues and organs.

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Genre, A., Lanfranco, L., Perotto, S. et al. Unique and common traits in mycorrhizal symbioses. Nat Rev Microbiol 18, 649–660 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-020-0402-3

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