, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 224-235

Filamentous Fungi: the Indeterminate Lifestyle and Microbial Ecology

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The filamentous fungi have dynamic and variable hyphal structures within which cytoplasm can be moved, synthesized, and degraded, in response to changes in environmental conditions, resource availability, and resource distribution. Their study has gone through several phases. In the first phase, direct observation was emphasized without undue concern for interior structures or in the presence of cytoplasm. By the mid-1970s, single biochemical proxies (ergosterol, marker fatty acids, chitin derivatives, etc.) were being used increasingly. The use of these surrogate single measurements continues, in spite of their inability to provide information on the physical structure of the filamentous fungi. Molecular approaches also are being used, primarily through the use of bulk nucleic acid extraction and cloning. Because the sources of the nucleic acids used in such studies usually are not known, taxonomic and phylogenetic information derived by this approach cannot be linked to specific fungal structures. Recently, a greater emphasis has been placed on assessing physical aspects of indeterminate fungal growth, involving the assessment of cytoplasm-filled and evacuated (empty) hyphae. Both of these parameters are important for describing filamentous fungal growth and function. The use of phase contrast microscopy and varied general stains, as well as fluorogenic substrates with observation by epifluorescence microscopy, has made it possible to provide estimates of cytoplasm-filled hyphal lengths. Using this approach, it has been possible to evaluate the responses of the indeterminate fungal community to changes in environmental conditions, including soil management. It is now possible to obtain molecular information from individual bacteria and fungal structures (hyphae, spores, fruiting bodies) recovered from environments, making it possible to link individual fungal structures with their taxonomic and phylogenetic information. In addition, this information can be considered in the context of the indeterminate filamentous fungal lifestyle, involving the dynamics of resource allocation to hyphal structural development and synthesis of cytoplasm. Use of this approach should make it possible to gain a greater appreciation of the indeterminate filamentous fungal lifestyle, particularly in the context of microbial ecology.