Menu

The Fungus that Poses as a Flower

Mummy berry disease coats blueberry leaves with sweet, sticky stains that smell like flowers, luring in passing insects to spread fungal spores.

Feb 1, 2017
Ben Andrew Henry

STOWAWAYS: Fungal pseudoflowers, in the form of a chalky white coating on leaves, lure in pollinators to spread pathogenic spores to neighboring plants. ANRO0002/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; S. H. McArt et al., PLOS ONE, 11:e0165761, 2016

EDITOR'S CHOICE IN ECOLOGY

The paper
S. H. McArt et al., “Floral scent mimicry and vector-pathogen associations in a pseudoflower-inducing plant pathogen system,” PLOS ONE, 11:e0165761, 2016.

Unwanted company
Shriveled, sickly white berries are an unwelcome sight on any blueberry farm, symptoms of a crop-wasting infection called mummy berry disease. Researchers recently profiled the modus operandi of the fungus responsible, Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi (Mvc), uncovering a previously unappreciated tactic for spreading its spores.

Faking it
The fungus starts off as an airborne spore riding on the breeze, waiting to land on a new leaf of a blueberry plant. There, the spore multiplies and exudes a sticky, sugary, fragrant, spore-laden film, which is called a pseudoflower for its ability to attract insects. Visiting pollinators carry the spores to real flowers, giving the fungus the opportunity to invade nascent fruits that eventually shrivel, fall to the ground, and crack open to release more spores to the wind.

Tools of the con
The adaptive role of the pseudoflower has not been clear, says Cornell University ecologist Scott McArt. Other fungal pseudoflowers fall into two categories: some mimic their host flower, while others form their own, unique kind of flower. To draw the distinction, McArt and his colleagues analyzed the volatile compounds responsible for the Mvc pseudoflower’s scent and discovered a close match to those released by actual blueberry flowers. “The degree of the mimicry is pretty extraordinary,” says University of Oregon ecologist Bitty Roy.

Aiding and abetting
A genetic analysis found Mvc fungal DNA on 56 percent of bees and wasps and 31 percent of flies captured, implicating them as spore vectors. But behavioral data on the preference for infected versus uninfected plants was equivocal, leaving the insects’ exact roles to be quantified in future field studies.

June 2019

Living with Bacteria

Can pathogens be converted to commensals?

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Best Practices: Calculating Cell Confluency
Best Practices: Calculating Cell Confluency
In this white paper, learn how to use a cell imager system to directly and accurately capture and calculate cell confluency!
LabTwin's AI-powered Digital Assistant Now Talks Back and Connects Data Sources in the Lab with New Open API
LabTwin's AI-powered Digital Assistant Now Talks Back and Connects Data Sources in the Lab with New Open API
LabTwin GmbH, the world's first voice and AI-powered digital lab assistant, today announced its new open API that will connect scientists with data sources both inside and outside of the lab. 
BCG Digital Ventures and Sartorius Help Launch the World's First Voice-powered Digital Assistant for Scientists
BCG Digital Ventures and Sartorius Help Launch the World's First Voice-powered Digital Assistant for Scientists
LabTwin GmbH, an independent company backed by Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures (BCG Digital Ventures) and leading biopharma supplier, Sartorius, today announced the launch of the world's first voice and AI-powered digital lab assistant.
Understanding Transcriptomic or Proteomic Datasets to Reveal Biological Mechanisms
Understanding Transcriptomic or Proteomic Datasets to Reveal Biological Mechanisms
When analyzing large transcriptomics or proteomics datasets, we want to understand whether the phenomenon is unusual or commonplace and whether there are informative similarities to other areas of biology. To learn more about how Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA®) and Analysis Match can help, download this white paper from QIAGEN!