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3 Genomics of the Fungal Kingdom: Insights into Eukaryotic Biology

James E. Galagan, Matthew R. Henn, Li-Jun Ma, Christina A. Cuomo, Bruce Birren


The over 1.5 million members of the Fungal Kingdom (Hawksworth 1991) impact nearly all other forms of life as either friend or foe. Fungi play a critical role in the environment through the decomposition of organic material and through symbiotic relationships with prokaryotes, plants (including algae), and animals. In particular, fungi share a long history with human civilization. References in Greek literature, mushroom stones from Mesoamerica dating to 1000–300 BC (Lowy 1971), and dried mushrooms of Piptoporus betulinus found in a pouch around a Stone Age man’s neck in the Alps (Rensberger 1992) all attest to this long relationship. The relationship can be beneficial, as in the case of biotransformations such as fermentation and the production of antibiotics or extremely detrimental, as demonstrated by the devastating impacts of mycoses, plant diseases, and mycotoxins (Moss 1987).

Found within the 900 million years (Myr) of evolutionary history of the fungi is an enormous biological diversity (Fig. 1). This diversity encompasses four major groups of fungal organism, i.e., ascomycetes, basidiomycetes, zygomycetes, and chytrids. Fungal cellular physiology and genetics share key components with animal and plant cells, including multicellularity, cytoskeletal structures, development and differentiation, sexual reproduction, cell cycle, intercellular signaling, circadian rhythms, DNA methylation, and chromatin modification. The shared origins of the genes responsible for these fundamental biological functions between humans and fungi continue to make the understanding of these fungal genes of vital interest to human biology. In addition, their genomes are more easily sequenced and annotated relative to most metazoans and...

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