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First fungal farmers found harvesting bacteria

It's a mould breaker. Researchers have discovered the first fungus that behaves like a farmer.

We already know that soil fungi can help bacteria travel quickly from A to B. The fungal filaments provide favourable conditions for the bacteria, and so act as "highways" through the soil. But these highways may impose a toll.

To find out more, Pilar Junier at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and her colleagues studied the soil fungus Morchella crassipes and its relationship with Pseudomonas putida bacteria. To track the flow of nutrients, she labelled the fungus with carbon-13 in one experimental set-up, and labelled the bacteria with the isotope in a second. After five days, the bacteria had gained nutrients from the fungus.

But between day five and day nine, the bacteria numbers began to drop and the nutrients flowed from bacteria into the fungus. At the same time, the fungus began growing hard, nutrient-rich nodules called sclerotia, which it uses as a food store during unfavourable times when nutrients are unavailable.

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