Penicillin-producing fungus, previously thought to be asexual, has a sexual side. The finding is the latest in a kind of sexual revolution in fungal genetics
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Paul Dyer, a fungal biologist at the University of Nottingham in England, suspected that P. chrysogenum would reproduce sexually if given the right encouragement. Acomplete sequencing of the fungi's genome revealed that P. chyrosogenum still carried the genes needed for mating. "That told us that there was perhaps sexual compatibility there," he says. So Dyer and researchers at several other European institutions tried to find the ideal conditions that would encourage P.chrysogenum to have sex.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the genes that regulate the fungi's sexual ability also control the amount of penicillin it produces; the fungi that are having sex make more penicillin. The team published their findings online in January in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "I've believed for a long time that these guys were having sex but they were just doing it in secret," says Joan W. Bennett, a professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers University, who was not involved in the work.