Microbiology Today August 2000

Fungi thread their way into our lives in a whole variety of ways. Once considered to be plants by scientists, these widely diverse eukaryotes are now firmly established as the province of microbiologists. This issue looks at various aspects of mycology and some of the activities of fungi.

Tony Trinci of the University of Manchester, a former President of the British Mycological Society, emphasizes the importance of fungi and ponders on the future of mycology, in an era when individual scientific disciplines seem to be disappearing.

Classifying fungi was once believed to be a simple matter for botanists, but DNA sequencing data are revealing some unexpected relationships. First of all, fungi have turned out to be closer to animals than plants on the evolutionary tree. Roy Watling, retired Head of Mycology at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, describes some of the intricacies of fungal systematics.

Most fungi reproduce by spores. As mushroom lover and retired microbiologist Elio Schaechter describes, some amazing ways have evolved to distribute these around the planet. Some rely on insects for spore dispersal, whilst others use people or animals to ensure their spread.

Developments in molecular biology are also enabling the decoding of entire yeast genomes such as those of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Alan Wheals, of the University of Bath, explores the ensuing benefits for fundamental research into eukaryotic cell biology and the potential applications of this knowledge.

Some brewing yeasts may be used as model organisms, but down in the pub, their role in the production of alcoholic drinks is probably considered more important! Iain Campbell of the International Centre for Brewing & Distilling at Heriot-Watt University takes a look at beer and the selection of the yeasts used to make it.

Fungi produce a whole range of useful secondary metabolites such as antibiotics. Research into fungal genetics and biochemistry is paving the way to expand on this work in the development of new drugs, as Geoff Turner, University of Sheffield, describes.

Not all fungi are beneficial. Illustrated by some photographs with a high "yuck" factor, Ruth Ashbee and Glyn Evans of the University of Leeds take a look at some of the fungal diseases of the skin, hair and nails that cost millions of pounds of treatment each year in the UK.

Yeasts and moulds are often found living in nature in spatially organised communities with other micro-organisms. These communities, known as biofilms, can survive and exploit circumstances beyond their capabilities as individual microbes. Hilary Lappin-Scott and Peter Gilbert, co-organisers of the Main Symposium at the SGM meeting at Exeter University from 12-15 September which covers aspects of biofilm behaviour, preview the topics to be discussed.

Hot off the Press [Acrobat PDF] highlights some new developments in microbiological research that have been published in the Society's journals - Microbiology, Journal of General Virology and International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. Topics covered include:
  • Recombination network - begomovirus isolates in cotton plants in Pakistan
  • Developmental cheating - mass suicide in slime moulds
  • Gene silencing - multi-virus resistance in transgenic plants
  • Hawaii 2-0 - identification of a new yeast in Hawaii
  • Purple haze - a new purple sulphur bacterium
  • If you can't stand the heat - microbes in a hydrothermal vent
  • Bridging the gap - interactions of E. coli with the gut wall cells
  • Antifungal toxin from fishery waste bacteria - New species of Paenibacillus inhibits fungal growth
Going Public [Acrobat PDF], which features science promotion activities, covers:

  • MISAC Schools Competition 2000 - Vaccination - Just a Shot in the Arm?

Other items include:

Last updated 29 May 2003