What is the function of fungal spores and how are they dispersed?

Despite billions of dollars spent annually on their control, fungal diseases (including new diseases of frogs, bats and oak trees) continue to wreak havoc over the entire of the US. One of the major problems of fungal control is lack of understanding of the mechanisms by which new fungal pathogens emerge and then disperse. Increasing evidence to points to fungal chimerism - the ability of a fungus to support many genetically different nuclei within the same cell - as a key ingredient in the emergence of new diseases and the persistence of old ones. In this project we will focus on two questions connected to dispersal:

  • A fungus creates millions of spores, which sit on specialized structures called conidiophores. How do these spores escape from the fungus?
  • What are spores for? The conventional wisdom is that spores are designed to be borne aloft by the wind and carry fungal "offspring" to new habitats. We will test some alternate hypotheses, showing how local dispersal of spores, by only a few millimeters or centimeters may in fact be their biggest contribution to fungal growth.

    Supervised by Prof. Marcus Roper of UCLA, and Prof. Emilie Dressaire of Trinity College, CT, students will tackle these questions using a combination of mathematical modeling, high speed videography of spore release, and microbiological experiments to measure the evolving genetic composition of a growing fungus. No previous knowledge of fungal biology or microbiology is needed; this project is particularly suitable for students who are interested in fluid mechanics and/or mathematical biology.