Beyond animals and plants: dynamic maternal effects in the fungusNeurospora crassa

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Maternal effects are widely documented in animals and plants, but not in fungi or other eukaryotes. A principal cause of maternal effects is asymmetrical parental investment in a zygote, creating greater maternal vs. paternal influence on offspring phenotypes. Asymmetrical investments are not limited to animals and plants, but are also prevalent in fungi and groups including apicomplexans, dinoflagellates and red algae. Evidence suggesting maternal effects among fungi is sparse and anecdotal. In an experiment designed to test for maternal effects across sexual reproduction in the model fungus Neurospora crassa, we measured offspring phenotypes from crosses of all possible pairs of 22 individuals. Crosses encompassed reciprocals of 11 mating-type ‘A’ and 11 mating-type ‘a’ wild strains. After controlling for the genetic and geographic distances between strains in any individual cross, we found strong evidence for maternal control of perithecia (sporocarp) production, as well as maternal effects on spore numbers and spore germination. However, both parents exert equal influence on the percentage of spores that are pigmented and size of pigmented spores. We propose a model linking the stage-specific presence or absence of maternal effects to cellular developmental processes: effects appear to be mediated primarily through the maternal cytoplasm, and, after spore cell walls form, maternal influence on spore development is limited. Maternal effects in fungi, thus far largely ignored, are likely to shape species' evolution and ecologies. Moreover, the association of anisogamy and maternal effects in a fungus suggests maternal effects may also influence the biology of other anisogamous eukaryotes.

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