|Department of Plant Biology and Pathology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
59 Dudley Road
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520
Fungal associates of plants may play important roles in adapting plants to their environments. Mycorrhizal associates of plant roots are often found to be critical in enabling plants to survive in harsh environments. Recently, it has been discovered that clavicipitaceous endophytic fungi of grasses may similarly enhance adaptability of infected-grass individuals.
In one project in my laboratory, we are trying to examine diversity of fungi that have taken to the endophytic niche. In this project we are employing molecular as well as morphological techniques to examine the phylogenetic relationships among endophytes isolated from plants. We are also interested in how endophytes have evolved and spread to various continents. These biogeographic studies involve collecting endophytes from various parts of the earth and comparing DNA sequences to determine the evolutionary relationships between the endophytes. This work should enable us to pinpoint the location of origin of endophytes.In another project, we are examining the systematic relationships between species, genera, tribes, and subfamilies of the Clavicipitaceae (Ascomycotina). The host-symbiont relationships in the Clavicipitaceae is another area of interest. In particular, we are interested in understanding how the Clavicipitaceae induce plant hosts to release nutrients to the biotrophic fungi. Unlike most biotrophs, members of the Clavicipitaceae do not possess haustoria or other specialized structures for nutrient absorption. Thus the mechanisms by which nutrients are extracted from hosts is a mystery.