The Codebreakers: UOttawa researchers solve ancient genetic mystery

Posted on Monday, December 17, 2018

Microscope used for this research

A team of researchers at the University of Ottawa and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich were able to crack the highly complex genetic system of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) - something that had frustrated scientists for decades. This discovery opens the door to new eco-industry applications.

We sat down with Professor Nicolas Corradi, research lead and an associate professor in the department of biology, to learn more.

What’s the BIG news? The impactful discovery?

Fungus cells

I study ecologically relevant and medically important fungi. AMF is thought to have contributed directly to the development of the earth's biodiversity. Our team was able to solve a long-standing genetic puzzle.

What are the main findings? What is explained that we did not know or understand before?

These fungi have been used by the eco-industries to enhance plant growth for decades. The problem was that we were unable to unlock their genetic code to create strains that would be more efficient for organic agriculture. By decoding this highly complex genetic system, we also allow this knowledge to be applied in sustainable agriculture.

How did you come to these conclusions?

We implemented a novel approach that allowed us to isolate single nuclei from these organisms, as opposed to analyzing the entire DNA structure. By doing this, we were able to acquire direct information on the genetic content of single nuclei, and finally obtain answers to long-standing questions in in the field of cellular evolutionary biology.

Any information (key messages) that would be important to share with the public? Ex. Surprising facts? Myths debunked?

This is an important demonstration that there is more to “genetics” than is taught to students in Biology books. When researchers start digging into non-model organisms, there is always something exciting awaiting discovery.

And from an economic and environmental standpoint, our research opens avenues for the application of these organisms as bio-fertilizers.

This work was a collaboration between Dr. Corradi’s lab and researchers at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). The research was published in the journal eLife.

For more information:
Isabelle Mailloux Pulkinghorn
uOttawa media relations

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