Deeper knowledge of lichens’ complexity through DNA analysis

Published: 2019-01-23


Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpina)

An individual lichen, which consists of fungi and algae living in symbiosis, can contain up to three different fungi. A finding providing insight to another recent discovery showing lichens are made up of more than a single fungus and algae, overturning the prevailing theory of more than 150 years.

The study, published in Current Biology, was carried out by an international research team from Uppsala University, SLU, University of Alberta and Indiana University. The study was led by Veera Tuovinen, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, under the supervision of Toby Spribille, assistant professor at the University of Alberta, and Hanna Johannesson, associate professor at Uppsala University.

SciLifeLab’s National Genomics Infrastructure assisted the project with metagenome sequencing, and the research team analyzed the DNA of over 300 wolf lichen samples. They were surprised to find that 95 % of the samples contained a third fungus, Tremella, since the well-studied wolf lichen is believed to rarely do so.

Now that the roster of players in wolf lichens has become clear, the researchers want to figure out how each member benefits in the give-and take process of symbiosis.

“What this means in concrete terms to the overall symbiosis is the big question”, says Hanna Johannesson in a press release from the University of Alberta. “What we are finding now is basically what researchers since the 1800’s would have liked to know ­– who are the core players, what function do they perform, all the cards on the table”.

More information:

Press release from Uppsala University

Press release from University of Alberta

Scientific paper in Current Biology