Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Heart Smut Fungi

I was excited to find a fair amount of corn smut (Ustilago maydis) in our corn field today. It's one of my favorite fungi.

This fungal parasite has a complex lifecycle that culminates in the infection of a corn plant and the transformation of that plant (usually the kernels) into tumor-like mushrooms. When ripe, these rubbery gray growths rupture, releasing greasy, black spores.


But BEFORE this fungus produce spores, this "maize mushroom" exists as a yummy Mexican delicacy, known as "huitlacoche." It can be cooked up like any other mushroom. Sometimes you can find the canned version in specialty grocery stores, but I doubt it's as good as it is fresh.

Unfortunately, all the smut I found today had already gone to spores...


Another smut disease caused some pretty dramatic agricultural disasters at the turn of the century (before last). A series of devastating wheat smut outbreaks caused hundreds of combine fires as the vehicles stirred up massive clouds of oily smut spores, which were ignited by the movement of the machinery.


A third pretty incredible smut fungus is Microbotryum violaceum. This "anther smut" fungus parasitizes various flowers in the Caryophyllaceae (especially the campions, Silene spp.).

This fungus colonizes and spreads systemically throughout its host plant, permanently sterilizing it. It does this by forcing the plant's female flowers to grow male anthers (which usually contain pollen) and then REPLACING the pollen with its own spores (see picture) - which are then spread by pollinating insects to uninfected plants!

1 comment:

  1. Hi! You have a very cool blog! I am working on my PhD project with anther smut and I bumped into your website while searching for some information : )

    The rest of my lab work with corn smut, so that picture of huitlacoche is really awesome. I have not seen that b4!

    ReplyDelete

Share!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails