Research Features

A review “Genetic Networks That Govern Sexual Reproduction in the Pezizomycotina” by FABI postdoc Dr Andi Wilson and co-authors Dr Markus Wilken, Prof. Mike Wingfield and Prof. Brenda Wingfield was recently published in the series “Sex in Fungi”, a special issue of the journal Microbiology & Molecular Biology Reviews. The review provides details of the genes that are essential to the sexual cycle in filamentous Ascomycete fungi and further describes their functions in a variety of model and non-model species.

Sexual reproduction is an important aspect of the life cycles of most Eukaryotes, including the fungi. It allows for the generation of genetically unique offspring that are potentially better adapted to their environments. Furthermore, sexual reproduction has the capacity to generate novel genotypes that may be more virulent or capable of host expansions and the colonization of new environments.

In many fungi, sexual development results in the production of highly specialized tissues and structures that produce and protect the sexual spores. The development of these tissues is strictly controlled and executed by a huge number of genes and gene products that ensure that the sexual pathway occurs in the correct spatiotemporal manner. The primary regulators of this process are the mating-type genes, which control the expression of hundreds of sex-related genes. The review details how these genes influence sexual development in a wide variety of model and non-model species, the specific molecular pathways in which they play a role and how their biological functions are conserved or diversified from species to species. From partner recognition and fertilization to ascomatal development and ascospore germination, the authors discuss the important genes that regulate each step in the sexual cycle.

The review also considers how the study of sexual reproduction in the Ascomycetes is likely to develop in the future, while acknowledging the important role that model species and single gene characterization have played in establishing a deeper understanding of sexual reproduction. It is suggested that this field will benefit from expansion to include greater numbers of non-model species. Such studies, although relatively few in number, are already showing that there is a great deal more to be understood, beyond what has been learned from model species. Furthermore, it is clear that high-throughput and functional multi-omics approaches as well as genome editing will lead to a much deeper understanding of the sexual cycle in fungi.