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Scarlet elf cap cadnant dingle.jpg
Sarcoscypha coccinea
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Fungi
Subkingdom: Dikarya
Division: Ascomycota
(Berk.) Caval.-Sm. (1998) [1]
"Unplaced orders"

Ascomycota is a phylum of the kingdom Fungi that, together with the Basidiomycota, forms the subkingdom Dikarya. Its members are commonly known as the sac fungi or ascomycetes. It is the largest phylum of Fungi, with over 64,000 species. [2] The defining feature of this fungal group is the "ascus" (from Greek: ἀσκός (askos), meaning "sac" or "wineskin"), a microscopic sexual structure in which nonmotile spores, called ascospores, are formed. However, some species of the Ascomycota are asexual, meaning that they do not have a sexual cycle and thus do not form asci or ascospores. Familiar examples of sac fungi include morels, truffles, brewer's yeast and baker's yeast, dead man's fingers, and cup fungi. The fungal symbionts in the majority of lichens (loosely termed "ascolichens") such as Cladonia belong to the Ascomycota.


Ascomycota is a monophyletic group (it contains all descendants of one common ancestor). Previously placed in the Deuteromycota along with asexual species from other fungal taxa, asexual (or anamorphic) ascomycetes are now identified and classified based on morphological or physiological similarities to ascus-bearing taxa, and by phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequences. [3] [4]

The ascomycetes are of particular use to humans as sources of medicinally important compounds, such as antibiotics, for fermenting bread, alcoholic beverages and cheese. Penicillium species on cheeses and those producing antibiotics for treating bacterial infectious diseases are examples of ascomycetes.

Many ascomycetes are pathogens, both of animals, including humans, and of plants. Examples of ascomycetes that can cause infections in humans include Candida albicans , Aspergillus niger and several tens of species that cause skin infections. The many plant-pathogenic ascomycetes include apple scab, rice blast, the ergot fungi, black knot, and the powdery mildews. Several species of ascomycetes are biological model organisms in laboratory research. Most famously, Neurospora crassa , several species of yeasts, and Aspergillus species are used in many genetics and cell biology studies.

Asexual reproduction in ascomycetes

Ascomycetes are 'spore shooters'. They are fungi which produce microscopic spores inside special, elongated cells or sacs, known as 'asci', which give the group its name.

Asexual reproduction is the dominant form of propagation in the Ascomycota, and is responsible for the rapid spread of these fungi into new areas. Asexual reproduction of ascomycetes is very diverse from both structural and functional points of view. The most important and general is production of conidia, but chlamydospores are also frequently produced. Furthermore, Ascomycota also reproduce asexually through budding.

Conidia formation:

Asexual reproduction may occur through vegetative reproductive spores, the conidia. The asexual, non-motile haploid spores of a fungus, which are named after the Greek word for dust (conia), are hence also known as conidiospores and mitospores. The conidiospores commonly contain one nucleus and are products of mitotic cell divisions and thus are sometimes call mitospores, which are genetically identical to the mycelium from which they originate. They are typically formed at the ends of specialized hyphae, the conidiophores. Depending on the species they may be dispersed by wind or water, or by animals. Conidiophores may simply branch off from the mycelia or they may be formed in fruiting bodies.

Conidia Formation.png

The hypha that creates the sporing (conidiating) tip can be very similar to the normal hyphal tip, or it can be differentiated. The most common differentiation is the formation of a bottle shaped cell called a phialide, from which the spores are produced. Not all of these asexual structures are a single hypha. In some groups, the conidiophores (the structures that bear the conidia) are aggregated to form a thick structure.

E.g. In the order Moniliales, all of them are single hyphae with the exception of the aggregations, termed as coremia or synnema. These produce structures rather like corn-stokes, with many conidia being produced in a mass from the aggregated conidiophores.

The diverse conidia and conidiophores sometimes develop in asexual sporocarps with different characteristics (e.g. acervulus, pycnidium, sporodochium). Some species of Ascomycetes form their structures within plant tissue, either as parasite or saprophytes. These fungi have evolved more complex asexual sporing structures, probably influenced by the cultural conditions of plant tissue as a substrate. These structures are called the sporodochium. This is a cushion of conidiophores created from a pseudoparenchymatous stroma in plant tissue. The pycnidium is a globose to flask-shaped parenchymatous structure, lined on its inner wall with conidiophores. The acervulus is a flat saucer shaped bed of conidiophores produced under a plant cuticle, which eventually erupt through the cuticle for dispersal.

Conidia Formation Image.png


Asexual reproduction process in ascomycetes also involves the budding which we clearly observe in yeast. This is termed a "blastic process". It involves the blowing out or blebbing of the hyphal tip wall. The blastic process can involve all wall layers, or there can be a new cell wall synthesized which is extruded from within the old wall.


The initial events of budding can be seen as the development of a ring of chitin around the point where the bud is about to appear. This reinforces and stabilizes the cell wall. Enzymatic activity and turgor pressure act to weaken and extrude the cell wall. New cell wall material is incorporated during this phase. Cell contents are forced into the progeny cell, and as the final phase of mitosis ends a cell plate, the point at which a new cell wall will grow inwards from, forms.

Characteristics of ascomycetes

Modern classification

There are three subphyla that are described and accepted:

Outdated taxon names

Several outdated taxon names—based on morphological features—are still occasionally used for species of the Ascomycota. These include the following sexual (teleomorphic) groups, defined by the structures of their sexual fruiting bodies: the Discomycetes, which included all species forming apothecia; the Pyrenomycetes, which included all sac fungi that formed perithecia or pseudothecia, or any structure resembling these morphological structures; and the Plectomycetes, which included those species that form cleistothecia. Hemiascomycetes included the yeasts and yeast-like fungi that have now been placed into the Saccharomycotina or Taphrinomycotina, while the Euascomycetes included the remaining species of the Ascomycota, which are now in the Pezizomycotina, and the Neolecta, which are in the Taphrinomycotina.

Some ascomycetes do not reproduce sexually or are not known to produce asci and are therefore anamorphic species. Those anamorphs that produce conidia (mitospores) were previously described as mitosporic Ascomycota. Some taxonomists placed this group into a separate artificial phylum, the Deuteromycota (or "Fungi Imperfecti"). Where recent molecular analyses have identified close relationships with ascus-bearing taxa, anamorphic species have been grouped into the Ascomycota, despite the absence of the defining ascus. Sexual and asexual isolates of the same species commonly carry different binomial species names, as, for example, Aspergillus nidulans and Emericella nidulans, for asexual and sexual isolates, respectively, of the same species.

Species of the Deuteromycota were classified as Coelomycetes if they produced their conidia in minute flask- or saucer-shaped conidiomata, known technically as pycnidia and acervuli. [7] The Hyphomycetes were those species where the conidiophores (i.e., the hyphal structures that carry conidia-forming cells at the end) are free or loosely organized. They are mostly isolated but sometimes also appear as bundles of cells aligned in parallel (described as synnematal) or as cushion-shaped masses (described as sporodochial). [8]


A member of the genus Cordyceps which is parasitic on arthropods. Note the elongated stromata. Species unknown, perhaps Cordyceps ignota. Ophiocordyceps caloceroides.jpg
A member of the genus Cordyceps which is parasitic on arthropods. Note the elongated stromata. Species unknown, perhaps Cordyceps ignota.
Ascomycete life cycle 04 01 02 life cycle Ascomycota, ascus (M. Piepenbring).svg
Ascomycete life cycle

Most species grow as filamentous, microscopic structures called hyphae or as budding single cells (yeasts). Many interconnected hyphae form a thallus usually referred to as the mycelium, which—when visible to the naked eye (macroscopic)—is commonly called mold. During sexual reproduction, many Ascomycota typically produce large numbers of asci. The ascus is often contained in a multicellular, occasionally readily visible fruiting structure, the ascocarp (also called an ascoma). Ascocarps come in a very large variety of shapes: cup-shaped, club-shaped, potato-like, spongy, seed-like, oozing and pimple-like, coral-like, nit-like, golf-ball-shaped, perforated tennis ball-like, cushion-shaped, plated and feathered in miniature (Laboulbeniales), microscopic classic Greek shield-shaped, stalked or sessile. They can appear solitary or clustered. Their texture can likewise be very variable, including fleshy, like charcoal (carbonaceous), leathery, rubbery, gelatinous, slimy, powdery, or cob-web-like. Ascocarps come in multiple colors such as red, orange, yellow, brown, black, or, more rarely, green or blue. Some ascomyceous fungi, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, grow as single-celled yeasts, which—during sexual reproduction—develop into an ascus, and do not form fruiting bodies.

The "candlesnuff fungus" in its asexual state, Xylaria hypoxylon Xylaria hypoxylon.jpg
The "candlesnuff fungus" in its asexual state, Xylaria hypoxylon

In lichenized species, the thallus of the fungus defines the shape of the symbiotic colony. Some dimorphic species, such as Candida albicans , can switch between growth as single cells and as filamentous, multicellular hyphae. Other species are pleomorphic, exhibiting asexual (anamorphic) as well as a sexual (teleomorphic) growth forms.

Except for lichens, the non-reproductive (vegetative) mycelium of most ascomycetes is usually inconspicuous because it is commonly embedded in the substrate, such as soil, or grows on or inside a living host, and only the ascoma may be seen when fruiting. Pigmentation, such as melanin in hyphal walls, along with prolific growth on surfaces can result in visible mold colonies; examples include Cladosporium species, which form black spots on bathroom caulking and other moist areas. Many ascomycetes cause food spoilage, and, therefore, the pellicles or moldy layers that develop on jams, juices, and other foods are the mycelia of these species or occasionally Mucoromycotina and almost never Basidiomycota. Sooty molds that develop on plants, especially in the tropics are the thalli of many species.[ clarification needed ]

The ascocarp of a morel contains numerous apothecia. Smardz-Morchella-Ejdzej-2006.jpg
The ascocarp of a morel contains numerous apothecia.

Large masses of yeast cells, asci or ascus-like cells, or conidia can also form macroscopic structures. For example. Pneumocystis species can colonize lung cavities (visible in x-rays), causing a form of pneumonia. [9] Asci of Ascosphaera fill honey bee larvae and pupae causing mummification with a chalk-like appearance, hence the name "chalkbrood". [10] Yeasts for small colonies in vitro and in vivo, and excessive growth of Candida species in the mouth or vagina causes "thrush", a form of candidiasis.

The cell walls of the ascomycetes almost always contain chitin and β-glucans, and divisions within the hyphae, called "septa", are the internal boundaries of individual cells (or compartments). The cell wall and septa give stability and rigidity to the hyphae and may prevent loss of cytoplasm in case of local damage to cell wall and cell membrane. The septa commonly have a small opening in the center, which functions as a cytoplasmic connection between adjacent cells, also sometimes allowing cell-to-cell movement of nuclei within a hypha. Vegetative hyphae of most ascomycetes contain only one nucleus per cell ( uninucleate hyphae), but multinucleate cells—especially in the apical regions of growing hyphae—can also be present.


In common with other fungal phyla, the Ascomycota are heterotrophic organisms that require organic compounds as energy sources. These are obtained by feeding on a variety of organic substrates including dead matter, foodstuffs, or as symbionts in or on other living organisms. To obtain these nutrients from their surroundings, ascomycetous fungi secrete powerful digestive enzymes that break down organic substances into smaller molecules, which are then taken up into the cell. Many species live on dead plant material such as leaves, twigs, or logs. Several species colonize plants, animals, or other fungi as parasites or mutualistic symbionts and derive all their metabolic energy in form of nutrients from the tissues of their hosts.

Owing to their long evolutionary history, the Ascomycota have evolved the capacity to break down almost every organic substance. Unlike most organisms, they are able to use their own enzymes to digest plant biopolymers such as cellulose or lignin. Collagen, an abundant structural protein in animals, and keratin—a protein that forms hair and nails—, can also serve as food sources. Unusual examples include Aureobasidium pullulans , which feeds on wall paint, and the kerosene fungus Amorphotheca resinae , which feeds on aircraft fuel (causing occasional problems for the airline industry), and may sometimes block fuel pipes. [11] Other species can resist high osmotic stress and grow, for example, on salted fish, and a few ascomycetes are aquatic.

The Ascomycota is characterized by a high degree of specialization; for instance, certain species of Laboulbeniales attack only one particular leg of one particular insect species. Many Ascomycota engage in symbiotic relationships such as in lichens—symbiotic associations with green algae or cyanobacteria—in which the fungal symbiont directly obtains products of photosynthesis. In common with many basidiomycetes and Glomeromycota, some ascomycetes form symbioses with plants by colonizing the roots to form mycorrhizal associations. The Ascomycota also represents several carnivorous fungi, which have developed hyphal traps to capture small protists such as amoebae, as well as roundworms (Nematoda), rotifers, tardigrades, and small arthropods such as springtails (Collembola).

Hypomyces completus on culture medium Hypomyces completus.jpg
Hypomyces completus on culture medium

Distribution and living environment

The Ascomycota are represented in all land ecosystems worldwide, occurring on all continents including Antarctica. [12] Spores and hyphal fragments are dispersed through the atmosphere and freshwater environments, as well as ocean beaches and tidal zones. The distribution of species is variable; while some are found on all continents, others, as for example the white truffle Tuber magnatum, only occur in isolated locations in Italy and Eastern Europe. [13] The distribution of plant-parasitic species is often restricted by host distributions; for example, Cyttaria is only found on Nothofagus (Southern Beech) in the Southern Hemisphere.


Asexual reproduction

Asexual reproduction is the dominant form of propagation in the Ascomycota, and is responsible for the rapid spread of these fungi into new areas. It occurs through vegetative reproductive spores, the conidia. The conidiospores commonly contain one nucleus and are products of mitotic cell divisions and thus are sometimes called mitospores, which are genetically identical to the mycelium from which they originate. They are typically formed at the ends of specialized hyphae, the conidiophores. Depending on the species they may be dispersed by wind or water, or by animals.

Asexual spores

Different types of asexual spores can be identified by colour, shape, and how they are released as individual spores. Spore types can be used as taxonomic characters in the classification within the Ascomycota. The most frequent types are the single-celled spores, which are designated amerospores. If the spore is divided into two by a cross-wall (septum), it is called a didymospore.

Conidiospores of Trichoderma aggressivum, Diameter approx. 3um Trichoderma aggressivum.jpeg
Conidiospores of Trichoderma aggressivum, Diameter approx. 3µm
Conidiophores of molds of the genus Aspergillus, conidiogenesis is blastic-phialidic Aspergillus.jpg
Conidiophores of molds of the genus Aspergillus, conidiogenesis is blastic-phialidic
Conidiophores of Trichoderma harzianum, conidiogenesis is blastic-phialidic Trichoderma harzianum.jpg
Conidiophores of Trichoderma harzianum , conidiogenesis is blastic-phialidic
Conidiophores of Trichoderma fertile with vase-shaped phialides and newly formed conidia on their ends (bright points) Trichoderma fertile.jpg
Conidiophores of Trichoderma fertile with vase-shaped phialides and newly formed conidia on their ends (bright points)

When there are two or more cross-walls, the classification depends on spore shape. If the septae are transversal, like the rungs of a ladder, it is a phragmospore, and if they possess a net-like structure it is a dictyospore. In staurospores ray-like arms radiate from a central body; in others (helicospores) the entire spore is wound up in a spiral like a spring. Very long worm-like spores with a length-to-diameter ratio of more than 15:1, are called scolecospores.

Conidiogenesis and dehiscence

Important characteristics of the anamorphs of the Ascomycota are conidiogenesis, which includes spore formation and dehiscence (separation from the parent structure). Conidiogenesis corresponds to Embryology in animals and plants and can be divided into two fundamental forms of development: blastic conidiogenesis, where the spore is already evident before it separates from the conidiogenic hypha, and thallic conidiogenesis, during which a cross-wall forms and the newly created cell develops into a spore. The spores may or may not be generated in a large-scale specialized structure that helps to spread them.

These two basic types can be further classified as follows:

  • blastic-acropetal (repeated budding at the tip of the conidiogenic hypha, so that a chain of spores is formed with the youngest spores at the tip),
  • blastic-synchronous (simultaneous spore formation from a central cell, sometimes with secondary acropetal chains forming from the initial spores),
  • blastic-sympodial (repeated sideways spore formation from behind the leading spore, so that the oldest spore is at the main tip),
  • blastic-annellidic (each spore separates and leaves a ring-shaped scar inside the scar left by the previous spore),
  • blastic-phialidic (the spores arise and are ejected from the open ends of special conidiogenic cells called phialides, which remain constant in length),
  • basauxic (where a chain of conidia, in successively younger stages of development, is emitted from the mother cell),
  • blastic-retrogressive (spores separate by formation of crosswalls near the tip of the conidiogenic hypha, which thus becomes progressively shorter),
  • thallic-arthric (double cell walls split the conidiogenic hypha into cells that develop into short, cylindrical spores called arthroconidia; sometimes every second cell dies off, leaving the arthroconidia free),
  • thallic-solitary (a large bulging cell separates from the conidiogenic hypha, forms internal walls, and develops to a phragmospore).

Sometimes the conidia are produced in structures visible to the naked eye, which help to distribute the spores. These structures are called "conidiomata" (singular: conidioma), and may take the form of pycnidia (which are flask-shaped and arise in the fungal tissue) or acervuli (which are cushion-shaped and arise in host tissue). [14]

Dehiscence happens in two ways. In schizolytic dehiscence, a double-dividing wall with a central lamella (layer) forms between the cells; the central layer then breaks down thereby releasing the spores. In rhexolytic dehiscence, the cell wall that joins the spores on the outside degenerates and releases the conidia.

Heterokaryosis and parasexuality

Several Ascomycota species are not known to have a sexual cycle. Such asexual species may be able to undergo genetic recombination between individuals by processes involving heterokaryosis and parasexual events.

Parasexuality refers to the process of heterokaryosis, caused by merging of two hyphae belonging to different individuals, by a process called anastomosis , followed by a series of events resulting in genetically different cell nuclei in the mycelium. [15] The merging of nuclei is not followed by meiotic events, such as gamete formation and results in an increased number of chromosomes per nuclei. Mitotic crossover may enable recombination, i.e., an exchange of genetic material between homologous chromosomes. The chromosome number may then be restored to its haploid state by nuclear division, with each daughter nuclei being genetically different from the original parent nuclei. [16] Alternatively, nuclei may lose some chromosomes, resulting in aneuploid cells. Candida albicans (class Saccharomycetes) is an example of a fungus that has a parasexual cycle (see Candida albicans and Parasexual cycle).

Sexual reproduction

Ascus of Hypocrea virens with eight two-celled Ascospores Hypocrea virens.jpg
Ascus of Hypocrea virens with eight two-celled Ascospores

Sexual reproduction in the Ascomycota leads to the formation of the ascus, the structure that defines this fungal group and distinguishes it from other fungal phyla. The ascus is a tube-shaped vessel, a meiosporangium, which contains the sexual spores produced by meiosis and which are called ascospores.

Apart from a few exceptions, such as Candida albicans , most ascomycetes are haploid, i.e., they contain one set of chromosomes per nucleus. During sexual reproduction there is a diploid phase, which commonly is very short, and meiosis restores the haploid state. The sexual cycle of one well-studied representative species of Ascomycota is described in greater detail in Neurospora crassa . Also, the adaptive basis for the maintenance of sexual reproduction in the Ascomycota fungi was reviewed by Wallen and Perlin. [17] They concluded that the most plausible reason for the maintenance of this capability is the benefit of repairing DNA damage by using recombination that occurs during meiosis. [17] DNA damage can be caused by a variety of stresses such as nutrient limitation.

Formation of sexual spores

The sexual part of the life cycle commences when two hyphal structures mate. In the case of homothallic species, mating is enabled between hyphae of the same fungal clone, whereas in heterothallic species, the two hyphae must originate from fungal clones that differ genetically, i.e., those that are of a different mating type. Mating types are typical of the fungi and correspond roughly to the sexes in plants and animals; however one species may have more than two mating types, resulting in sometimes complex vegetative incompatibility systems. The adaptive function of mating type is discussed in Neurospora crassa .

Gametangia are sexual structures formed from hyphae, and are the generative cells. A very fine hypha, called trichogyne emerges from one gametangium, the ascogonium, and merges with a gametangium (the antheridium) of the other fungal isolate. The nuclei in the antheridium then migrate into the ascogonium, and plasmogamy—the mixing of the cytoplasm—occurs. Unlike in animals and plants, plasmogamy is not immediately followed by the merging of the nuclei (called karyogamy ). Instead, the nuclei from the two hyphae form pairs, initiating the dikaryophase of the sexual cycle, during which time the pairs of nuclei synchronously divide. Fusion of the paired nuclei leads to mixing of the genetic material and recombination and is followed by meiosis. A similar sexual cycle is present in the red algae (Rhodophyta). A discarded hypothesis held that a second karyogamy event occurred in the ascogonium prior to ascogeny, resulting in a tetraploid nucleus which divided into four diploid nuclei by meiosis and then into eight haploid nuclei by a supposed process called brachymeiosis, but this hypothesis was disproven in the 1950s. [18]

Unitunicate-inoperculate Asci of Hypomyces chrysospermus Hypomyces chrysospermus.jpg
Unitunicate-inoperculate Asci of Hypomyces chrysospermus

From the fertilized ascogonium, dinucleate hyphae emerge in which each cell contains two nuclei. These hyphae are called ascogenous or fertile hyphae. They are supported by the vegetative mycelium containing uni– (or mono–) nucleate hyphae, which are sterile. The mycelium containing both sterile and fertile hyphae may grow into fruiting body, the ascocarp , which may contain millions of fertile hyphae.

An ascocarp is the fruiting body of the sexual phase in Ascomycota. There are five morphologically different types of ascocarp, namely:

  • Naked asci: these occur in simple ascomycetes; asci are produced on the organism's surface.
  • Perithecia: Asci are in flask-shaped ascoma (perithecium) with a pore (ostiole) at the top.
  • Cleistothecia: The ascocarp (a cleistothecium) is spherical and closed.
  • Apothecia: The asci are in a bowl shaped ascoma (apothecium). These are sometimes called the "cup fungi".
  • Pseudothecia: Asci with two layers, produced in pseudothecia that look like perithecia. The ascospores are arranged irregularly. [19]

The sexual structures are formed in the fruiting layer of the ascocarp, the hymenium. At one end of ascogenous hyphae, characteristic U-shaped hooks develop, which curve back opposite to the growth direction of the hyphae. The two nuclei contained in the apical part of each hypha divide in such a way that the threads of their mitotic spindles run parallel, creating two pairs of genetically different nuclei. One daughter nucleus migrates close to the hook, while the other daughter nucleus locates to the basal part of the hypha. The formation of two parallel cross-walls then divides the hypha into three sections: one at the hook with one nucleus, one at the basal of the original hypha that contains one nucleus, and one that separates the U-shaped part, which contains the other two nuclei.

Diagram of an apothecium (the typical cup-like reproductive structure of Ascomycetes) showing sterile tissues as well as developing and mature asci. Ascocarp2.png
Diagram of an apothecium (the typical cup-like reproductive structure of Ascomycetes) showing sterile tissues as well as developing and mature asci.

Fusion of the nuclei (karyogamy) takes place in the U-shaped cells in the hymenium, and results in the formation of a diploid zygote. The zygote grows into the ascus, an elongated tube-shaped or cylinder-shaped capsule. Meiosis then gives rise to four haploid nuclei, usually followed by a further mitotic division that results in eight nuclei in each ascus. The nuclei along with some cytoplasma become enclosed within membranes and a cell wall to give rise to ascospores that are aligned inside the ascus like peas in a pod.

Upon opening of the ascus, ascospores may be dispersed by the wind, while in some cases the spores are forcibly ejected form the ascus; certain species have evolved spore cannons, which can eject ascospores up to 30 cm. away. When the spores reach a suitable substrate, they germinate, form new hyphae, which restarts the fungal life cycle.

The form of the ascus is important for classification and is divided into four basic types: unitunicate-operculate, unitunicate-inoperculate, bitunicate, or prototunicate. See the article on asci for further details.


The Ascomycota fulfil a central role in most land-based ecosystems. They are important decomposers, breaking down organic materials, such as dead leaves and animals, and helping the detritivores (animals that feed on decomposing material) to obtain their nutrients. Ascomycetes along with other fungi can break down large molecules such as cellulose or lignin, and thus have important roles in nutrient cycling such as the carbon cycle.

The fruiting bodies of the Ascomycota provide food for many animals ranging from insects and slugs and snails ( Gastropoda ) to rodents and larger mammals such as deer and wild boars.

Many ascomycetes also form symbiotic relationships with other organisms, including plants and animals.


Probably since early in their evolutionary history, the Ascomycota have formed symbiotic associations with green algae (Chlorophyta), and other types of algae and cyanobacteria. These mutualistic associations are commonly known as lichens, and can grow and persist in terrestrial regions of the earth that are inhospitable to other organisms and characterized by extremes in temperature and humidity, including the Arctic, the Antarctic, deserts, and mountaintops. While the photoautotrophic algal partner generates metabolic energy through photosynthesis, the fungus offers a stable, supportive matrix and protects cells from radiation and dehydration. Around 42% of the Ascomycota (about 18,000 species) form lichens, and almost all the fungal partners of lichens belong to the Ascomycota.

Mycorrhizal fungi and endophytes

Members of the Ascomycota form two important types of relationship with plants: as mycorrhizal fungi and as endophytes. Mycorrhiza are symbiotic associations of fungi with the root systems of the plants, which can be of vital importance for growth and persistence for the plant. The fine mycelial network of the fungus enables the increased uptake of mineral salts that occur at low levels in the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungus with metabolic energy in the form of photosynthetic products.

Endophytic fungi live inside plants, and those that form mutualistic or commensal associations with their host, do not damage their hosts. The exact nature of the relationship between endophytic fungus and host depends on the species involved, and in some cases fungal colonization of plants can bestow a higher resistance against insects, roundworms (nematodes), and bacteria; in the case of grass endophytes the fungal symbiont produces poisonous alkaloids, which can affect the health of plant-eating (herbivorous) mammals and deter or kill insect herbivores. [20]

Symbiotic relationships with animals

Several ascomycetes of the genus Xylaria colonize the nests of leafcutter ants and other fungus-growing ants of the tribe Attini, and the fungal gardens of termites (Isoptera). Since they do not generate fruiting bodies until the insects have left the nests, it is suspected that, as confirmed in several cases of Basidiomycota species, they may be cultivated.[ clarification needed ]

Bark beetles (family Scolytidae) are important symbiotic partners of ascomycetes. The female beetles transport fungal spores to new hosts in characteristic tucks in their skin, the mycetangia . The beetle tunnels into the wood and into large chambers in which they lay their eggs. Spores released from the mycetangia germinate into hyphae, which can break down the wood. The beetle larvae then feed on the fungal mycelium, and, on reaching maturity, carry new spores with them to renew the cycle of infection. A well-known example of this is Dutch elm disease, caused by Ophiostoma ulmi , which is carried by the European elm bark beetle, Scolytus multistriatus . [21]

Plant disease interactions

One of their most harmful roles is as the agent of many plant diseases. For instance:

Human disease interactions

Beneficial effects for humans

On the other hand, ascus fungi have brought some important benefits to humanity.

Stilton cheese veined with Penicillium roqueforti Blue Stilton Quarter Front.jpg
Stilton cheese veined with Penicillium roqueforti

See also


  1. Cavalier-Smith, T. (1998). "A revised six-kingdom system of Life". Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 73 (3): 203–266. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.1998.tb00030.x. PMID   9809012. S2CID   6557779.
  2. Kirk et al., p. 55.
  3. Lutzoni F; et al. (2004). "Assembling the fungal tree of life: progress, classification, and evolution of subcellular traits". American Journal of Botany. 91 (10): 1446–80. doi: 10.3732/ajb.91.10.1446 . PMID   21652303.
  4. James TY; et al. (2006). "Reconstructing the early evolution of Fungi using a six-gene phylogeny". Nature. 443 (7113): 818–22. Bibcode:2006Natur.443..818J. doi:10.1038/nature05110. PMID   17051209. S2CID   4302864.
  5. McCoy, Peter (2016). Radical Mycology. Chthaeus Press. ISBN   9780986399602.
  6. "Caterpillar Fungus". Archived from the original on 2007-03-12.
  7. Alexopoulos, Mims & Blackwell 1996 , p. 233
  8. Alexopoulos, Mims & Blackwell 1996 , pp. 218–222
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  10. James RR, Skinner JS (2005). "PCR diagnostic methods for Ascosphaera infections in bees". Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 90 (2): 98–103. doi:10.1016/j.jip.2005.08.004. PMID   16214164.
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Cited texts

Related Research Articles

Basidiomycota Division of fungi

Basidiomycota is one of two large divisions that, together with the Ascomycota, constitute the subkingdom Dikarya within the kingdom Fungi. More specifically, Basidiomycota includes these groups: mushrooms, puffballs, stinkhorns, bracket fungi, other polypores, jelly fungi, boletes, chanterelles, earth stars, smuts, bunts, rusts, mirror yeasts, and the human pathogenic yeast Cryptococcus. Basidiomycota are filamentous fungi composed of hyphae and reproduce sexually via the formation of specialized club-shaped end cells called basidia that normally bear external meiospores. These specialized spores are called basidiospores. However, some Basidiomycota are obligate asexual reproducers. Basidiomycota that reproduce asexually can typically be recognized as members of this division by gross similarity to others, by the formation of a distinctive anatomical feature, cell wall components, and definitively by phylogenetic molecular analysis of DNA sequence data.

Hypha Long, filamentous structure in fungi or Actinobacteria

A hypha is a long, branching filamentous structure of a fungus, oomycete, or actinobacterium. In most fungi, hyphae are the main mode of vegetative growth, and are collectively called a mycelium.

An ascocarp, or ascoma, is the fruiting body (sporocarp) of an ascomycete phylum fungus. It consists of very tightly interwoven hyphae and may contain millions of asci, each of which typically contains four to eight ascospores. Ascocarps are most commonly bowl-shaped (apothecia) but may take on a spherical or flask-like form that has a pore opening to release spores (perithecia) or no opening (cleistothecia).


An ascus is the sexual spore-bearing cell produced in ascomycete fungi. Each ascus usually contains eight ascospores, produced by meiosis followed, in most species, by a mitotic cell division. However, asci in some genera or species can occur in numbers of one, two, four, or multiples of four. In a few cases, the ascospores can bud off conidia that may fill the asci with hundreds of conidia, or the ascospores may fragment, e.g. some Cordyceps, also filling the asci with smaller cells. Ascospores are nonmotile, usually single celled, but not infrequently may be coenocytic, and in some cases coenocytic in multiple planes. Mitotic divisions within the developing spores populate each resulting cell in septate ascospores with nuclei. The term ocular chamber, or oculus, refers to the epiplasm that is surrounded by the "bourrelet".


An ascospore is a spore contained in an ascus or that was produced inside an ascus. This kind of spore is specific to fungi classified as ascomycetes (Ascomycota).

<i>Neurospora crassa</i> Species of ascomycete fungus in the family Sordariaceae

Neurospora crassa is a type of red bread mold of the phylum Ascomycota. The genus name, meaning "nerve spore" in Greek, refers to the characteristic striations on the spores. The first published account of this fungus was from an infestation of French bakeries in 1843.

Heterothallic species have sexes that reside in different individuals. The term is applied particularly to distinguish heterothallic fungi, which require two compatible partners to produce sexual spores, from homothallic ones, which are capable of sexual reproduction from a single organism.

Conidium Asexual, non-motile spore of a fungus

A conidium, sometimes termed an asexual chlamydospore or chlamydoconidium, is an asexual, non-motile spore of a fungus. The name comes from the Greek word for dust, κόνις kónis. They are also called mitospores due to the way they are generated through the cellular process of mitosis. The two new haploid cells are genetically identical to the haploid parent, and can develop into new organisms if conditions are favorable, and serve in biological dispersal.


Saccharomycotina is a subdivision (subphylum) of the division (phylum) Ascomycota in the Kingdom Fungi. It comprises most of the ascomycete yeasts. The members of Saccharomycotina reproduce by budding and they do not produce ascocarps.

Mating in fungi Combination of genetic material between compatible mating types

Mating in fungi is a complex process governed by mating types. Research on fungal mating has focused on several model species with different behaviour. Not all fungi reproduce sexually and many that do are isogamous; thus, the terms "male" and "female" do not apply to many members of the fungal kingdom. Homothallic species are able to mate with themselves, while in heterothallic species only isolates of opposite mating types can mate.


The Taphrinomycotina are one of three subdivisions constituting the Ascomycota and is more or less synonymous with the slightly older invalid name Archiascomycetes. Recent molecular studies suggest that the group is monophyletic and basal to the rest of the Ascomycota.


Erysiphales are an order of ascomycete fungi. The order contains one family, Erysiphaceae. Many of them cause plant diseases called powdery mildew.

This is a glossary of some of the terms used in phytopathology.

<i>Xylaria polymorpha</i>

Xylaria polymorpha, commonly known as dead man's fingers, is a saprobic fungus. It is a common inhabitant of forest and woodland areas, usually growing from the bases of rotting or injured tree stumps and decaying wood. It has also been known to colonize substrates like woody legume pods, petioles, and herbaceous stems. It is characterized by its elongated upright, clavate, or strap-like stromata poking up through the ground, much like fingers. The genus Xylaria contains about 100 species of cosmopolitan fungi. Polymorpha means "many forms". As its name suggests, it has a very variable but often club-shaped fruiting body (stroma) resembling burned wood.

Mycosphaerella angulata is a fungal plant pathogen infecting muscadine grapes. This pathogen causes the common disease angular leaf spot. Mycosphaerella angulate is a ascomycete in the fungi kingdom.

Nematophagous fungus Carnivorous fungi specialized in trapping and digesting nematodes

Nematophagous fungi are carnivorous fungi specialized in trapping and digesting nematodes. Around 160 species are known. There exist both species that live inside the nematodes from the beginning and others that catch them, mostly with glue traps or in rings, some of which constrict on contact. Some species possess both types of traps. Another technique is to stun the nematodes using toxins, which is a method employed by Coprinus comatus, Stropharia rugosoannulata, and the family Pleurotaceae. The habit of feeding on nematodes has arisen many times among fungi, as is demonstrated by the fact that nematophagous species are found in all major fungal groups. Nematophagous fungi can be useful in controlling those nematodes that eat crops. Purpureocillium, for example, can be used as a bio-nematicide.

The Aliquandostipitaceae are a family of fungi in the Ascomycota, class Dothideomycetes. The family was described by Patrik Inderbitzin in 2001, and the order Jahnulales was created in 2002 to accommodate the family. The distinguishing characteristic for members of the family are the unusually wide hyphae that support the spore-bearing structures, and the presence of ascomata both with and without stalks. The genus Aliquandostipe has a pantropical distribution, having been found in Central America and southeast Asia; Jahnula has a wider distribution. Species in the family are saprobic, and are typically found growing on rotting wood.

<i>Taphrina caerulescens</i>

Taphrina caerulescens is a species of fungus in the family Taphrinaceae. It is a pathogenic Ascomycete fungus that causes oak leaf blister disease on various species of oak trees. The associated anamorph species is Lalaria coccinea, described in 1990. This disease causes lesions and blisters on Oak leaves. Effects of the disease are mostly cosmetic. Although not taxonomically defined, strains of T. caerulescens have been shown to be host specific with varying ¬ascus morphology between strains. There are differences in strains’ abilities to metabolize various carbon and nitrogen compounds. This has been proposed as a method of taxonomically defining subspecies within T. caerulescens.

Microascus manginii is a filamentous fungal species in the genus Microascus. It produces both sexual (teleomorph) and asexual (anamorph) reproductive stages known as M. manginii and Scopulariopsis candida, respectively. Several synonyms appear in the literature because of taxonomic revisions and re-isolation of the species by different researchers. M. manginii is saprotrophic and commonly inhabits soil, indoor environments and decaying plant material. It is distinguishable from closely related species by its light colored and heart-shaped ascospores used for sexual reproduction. Scopulariopsis candida has been identified as the cause of some invasive infections, often in immunocompromised hosts, but is not considered a common human pathogen. There is concern about amphotericin B resistance in S. candida.

Capronia mansonii is a mesophilic black yeast that is a part of the Herpotrichiellaceae. The species is uncommon in nature but is saprotrophic in nature and been discovered on decaying plant matter, particularly wood. This fungus is naturally found in the Netherlands and has successfully been cultured in lab. It is a teleomorph of the ascomycota division and possesses brown spores.