The enigmatic fungi

Last year, I argued that fungi are often excluded from conversations about the evolution of multicellularity (“Fungi are weird“):

Whenever we’re looking for commonalities among the various origins of complex multicellularity, commonalities that might suggest general principles for the transition to multicellular life, the fungi tend to either buck the pattern or provide an ambiguous fit. I have to admit that when fungi come up in these discussions, I have an unfortunate tendency to say “Who knows? Fungi are weird.” However, if László Nagy is right that complex multicellularity has arisen 8-11 times within the fungi, we might fairly say that the fungi include most origins of complex multicellularity. If so, maybe it’s not the fungi who are weird. If fungi truly include the majority of origins of complex multicellularity, fungi are the norm. Maybe it’s the rest of us that are weird.

I have finally gotten around to reading Maureen O’Malley’s Philosophy of Microbiology, which argues that any comprehensive theory of evolution needs to account for microbial life, life that often evolves in fundamentally different ways from the plants and animals on which most of the theory has been based. She makes a related, but broader, point:

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How old are the brown algae?

Don’t be fooled by brown algae. Kelps and their relatives could easily be mistaken for plants, with their stemlike stipes, leaflike blades, and rootlike holdfasts. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are more closely related to a shiitake than a kelp is to a kale.


Kelp, showing (from left to right) the blade, stipe, and holdfast. Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC.

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