The Name of the Fungus

Genetic advances spur mycologists to put their kingdom in order

Fungal taxonomy was already the subject of much dispute before DNA sequencing came along, but now it’s really in contention.  Here’s an article from Science News about the changes that genetic nomenclature is bringing to the world of mycology.

Name of the Fungus

(Science News)

It’s not only the case that the geneticists are discovering that very different-looking species that are currently placed in separate genera, or even families, are in fact closely related.  Part of the problem is that even some single genetic types of fungi– including the popular edible Hypomyces lactifluorum, the lobster mushroom— show entirely different morphology when reproducing asexually, compared to their appearance when undergoing sexual reproduction.  Others may show the same phenomenon, called pleomorphy, when growing on different substrates or in different climactic conditions.  Their appearances can be so different, in fact, that single organisms have sometimes been given two different species names, in days gone by when molecular biology was a mystery.

The problem of pleomorphy began to be recognized by the Tulasne brothers some 150 years ago, but has festered until the present day.  Now the scientific powers-that-be have the job of cleaning up all the confusing naming irregularities, and it seems like a Sisyphean task indeed.  It’s not the kind of thing that will affect the casual forager, but for those looking to expand their knowledge, it will be another obstacle to surmount.



About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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