ABOVE: © JULIA MOORE, WWW.MOOREILLUSTRATIONS.COM

When slow-growing fungi arrive at a gap smaller than the width of their hyphae, they can squeeze through and keep growing once they reach the other side. Fast-growing fungi tend to stall, either before their hyphae make it through the gap (top right), or because the hypha becomes depolarized—that is, it loses its internal organization—by the time it emerges from the channel (bottom right). Researchers used live-cell imaging to help explain the difference: faster growers have more vesicles carrying material needed for hyphal elongation and a bigger buildup of pressure at the tip, causing swelling that disrupts normal growth.

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