A good breeze is just what a fungus needs to spread its seed, but what if the weather doesn't oblige? It turns out some species generate their own jets of air, increasing how far their spores travel more than 30-fold.
Apothecial fungi have cup-shaped fruiting bodies lined with spore-bearing cells called asci. The microscopic size of their spores means they might only travel a few millimeters if ejected individually. To overcome this limitation, the fungi synchronize spore ejections, creating a small, localised air stream.
Marcus Roper of the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues used high-speed cameras, lasers and models to film spore ejections and calculate the precise speed and motion of each spore in the crop pathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and seven other apothecial fungi.
This showed how the combined effect of thousands of almost simultaneous ejections creates a small air jet, which carries the spores over much greater distances. The team found that synchronized ejections send the spores 10 centimeters away, compared to just 3 millimeters if each asci ejects alone.
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