Mold and diseases caused by fungi can greatly impact the shelf life of fruit and vegetables. However, some fungi benefit their hosts by aiding plant survival. Colletotrichum tofieldiae (Ct) is a root mold that typically supports continued plant development even when the plant is starved of phosphorus, an important nutrient for photosynthesis and growth. Researchers have studied a unique pathogenic strain of the fungi, called Ct3, which conversely inhibits plant growth. Their research is published in Nature Communications.

By comparing the beneficial and harmful Ct strains, they found that activation of a single fungal secondary metabolism gene cluster determined the negative impact of the fungus on the host plant. When the cluster was disrupted, either genetically or by a change in environment, the fungi’s behavior changed from inhibiting growth to promoting it. Understanding mechanisms like this could help us reduce food waste by harnessing the beneficial role fungi can have on food.

Colletotrichum tofieldae is a fungus that typically benefits plants when they suffer a phosphorus deficiency, helping them thrive despite the lack of this vital nutrient. It has even been shown to increase the growth and yield of economically important crops such as maize and tomatoes. In this study, the multi-institutional team used thale cress as the host plant and sourced six strains of Ct from different geographical locations to infect it.


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