Microbe of the Month™ May 2017 Special Edition Report -Dateline Monday Presents — The Fungus Among Us — A Menacing Mold Unmasked
Orange Mold Has Been Identified And It Turns Out He/She Is Famous And I Use the Term He/She Very Intentionally
Author’s note: I have not prefaced any of these in a while with my author’s disclaimer that gives a little background on this series, its origins, and what it is really about. Essentially, I have a captive audience of all the people who work in my group at the lab where I am employed. Mostly a bunch of young kids, right out of college, in their first real job which happens to be doing microbiology. Most did not study microbiology though all do have at least a college degree in some field of science. I started righting these six or seven months ago as a way to try and educate them some on the science of microbiology and if possible get them more interested in it. They started out quite dry and serious but have evolved from there to what you see today. A mix of microbio stuff with a bunch of humorous, ridiculous, and stupid stuff thrown in to liven it up. So far, upper management has tolerated this little side project of mine. No idea how long that will last as there is always that one person who just cannot stand to see anybody doing anything even remotely outside the box. Eventually such a person will get into a position to cause problems for MOTM I am sure. Oh well, I intend to keep it going for as long as I am allowed. I am being very dilligent in terms of scrubbing any possible identifying information from the reproductions I post on Medium. It would sink me immediately, and frankly it would be deserved, if I let slip the company or work for or worse yet any of the actual people in the group for which these newletters are the target audience. That cannot happen.
Orange mold, agent orange, chucky, master mold, the nobody do it better spore spreader has finally been identified. Using 18s rDNA intergenic sequencing (ITS) we have been able to unmask this moldy menace as none other than Neurospora sitophila/tetrasperma.
“Neurospora is highly valued for research purposes. First, it is easy to grow. Second, its simple life cycle makes it easy to study genetics and map genes. Because its characteristics make it ideal for scientific research, Neurospora is considered a model organism.”
Excuse me sir, what did you just say? can you please repeat that because I thought I heard you say something about highly valued and model organism? Now the easy to grow part we are on the same page with, but the rest, I have to say I am stunned. Also, your grammar was terrible but since I copied you directly from a web page I cannot be blamed.
I was expecting, genuinely loathed, or pain in the rear, or destroyer of retains, or maker of misery for poor scientist forced to deal with it almost every day for the past three months. Could it really be true, my nemesis all this time was/is actually one of the good guys. Never, it simply isn’t possible, or is it? Read on to find out in this May 2017 installment of Microbe of the Month ® Special Edition — blah, blah, something (see title for details)
Here at microbe of the month we love and respect all our microbial brothers and sisters however like many microbiologists we do suffer from a bit of a bacterial bias. It is not by choice that bacteria have become the dominant microorganism studied in our field but rather because of an eldritch ritual all young microbiologists must endure prior to joining the graduate school house where they will learn our ancient craft. The ritual is known as the sorting and only the most talented and dedicated among the many graduates of four year microbiology degree programs, biology majors who did not have a high enough GPA to get into medical school, and assorted philosophy and other social science majors who realized there is no money to be made in their chosen field so they took a few science classes their junior and senior year and really liked them, that are invited to sit and be chosen.
The ritual begins with the passing of the sorting hat* said to once belong to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek himself, the famed dutch microscopist, and grandfather of microbiolgy. It still smells of the cheese he ate in the company of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great who once visited him to learn of his magical discoveries. As the hat is passed from each eager, young, optimistic, hopeful, soon to be graduate student to the next it calls out a name. A university name, or something like that, whatever, the hat tells you where you are going to graduate school and for some reason that ends up biasing almost all microbiologists in favor of bacteria and the prokaryotes over fungi and the eukaryotes. How and why that happens is a tale for another day my friends, just trust me on this, it does.
As I was saying the bacteria, being prokaryotes (a term rapidly on its way to a well deserved and too long in coming retirement) are almost always easier to work with and thus to study, etc. than the eukaryotes. Ultimately because of this lab discrepancy there is much more known about them overall and many more people doing both applied and basic research using bacteria as model systems. The fungi on the other hand are eukaryotes. They are more like us and the plants and animals then the bacteria with which they are sometimes compared. Unlike most bacteria, and more like plants and animals, they can and do have a complicated and diverse array of life cycles, mating habits, cellular structures, morphologies, etc. All of these characteristics combine to make them very difficult conceptually to wrap your head around and just a plain pain in the butt to deal with in the lab. Also, they are far less (though still very) important in terms of agents of human disease. It makes sense that the more clinically significant organisms would see the most research effort and dollars given the human costs in pain and suffering. That is not to discount the burden caused by fungal infections and they are responsible for some pretty nasty diseases. I took a medical mycology class in graduate school and I still remember this one picture from the textbook. It was of this poor dude in some backwater rural hospital sticking out his tongue. There was a three inch long mushroom growing out of it. Yuck, gives me chills to this day just thinking about it. I mean how do you not notice that? or bite it off, or something, anything but that? Uggh. Break time now, I need to go throw up.
All that said there are some fungi that are considered model organisms for various fields of study. Like E. coli for the bacteriologist and/or bacterial geneticist, Neurospora is the fungi of choice for the mycologist and geneticist. The classification Neurospora contains both yeasts and fungi however, the Neurospora of interest to us is a filamentous fungi commonly known as orange bread mold. It first received major attention in 1843, when there was a Neurospora infestation in French bakeries. Neurospora was domesticated for research purposes in the 1920s. Domestication is not the exact word I would select in this particular case as Mr. Orange mold has proven himself to be quite a nuisance in many micro testing labs and food manufacturing facilities for close to 100 years now. As much pain as he/she has visited upon yours truly I am pleasantly surprised to learn that she/he has been messing with the French for far longer. To strike a blow against France is to strike a blow for freedom and liberty the world over. I will see your end France, your time is soon at hand, no longer will your rudeness go unrebuked, your lack of hygiene wont be ignored and tolerated as if it were somehow normal. The day is fast approaching when France will get its comeuppance, just you wait…just you wait….sorry did I say that out loud or worse, write it all down, what I really meant to say was Viva La France!.
One of the reasons it is such a pain is how fast it can grow which it does via tip extension and branching. In fact, Neurospora fungi are one of the fastest-growing filamental fungi, with a rate of about ten centimeters per day. I actually did not know that filamental was a word until just now. Cool, and I already thought of a good application for its use, punchline for humorous joke like phrases that less than one tenth of one percent of the population would ever understand, let alone find funny, in a million years. For example, “What was the deal with that crazy as a loon mold the other day? Was he filamental or what?” or “Why did they commit the mold to the insane asylum? Because he was filamental.” That is pure comedy gold, 24 karat.
Some shameless lifting of material from various websites in bold coming your way now….
“It has been shown that Neurospora have a circadian rhythm, called the sporulation rhythm. If at some point mycel is transferred from a high-light and high-nutrient environment, to a low-light, low-nutrient one, the circadian oscillator will begin. These circadian rhythms are caused by compensation mechanisms within cells. They are the physiological clocks of organisms.Neurospora often utlizes burnt plant matter as a food source. In addition, they are known to grow on bread and other food products. These organisms are heterotrophic. Neurospora reproduce sexually and asexually. Neurspora organisms spend most of their lives as haploid organisms.There are three different sexual life cycles: heterothallic, homothallic, and pseudohomothallic. In a heterothallic life cycle, Neurospora have two mating strains, A and a. Strains are determined by alternate DNA sequences at a chromosomal locus. Mating can only occur between different strains, which results in diploid cells in long sacs. Meiosis produces four haploid cells. These haploid cells undergo mitosis within the ascus, forming eight spores. N. crassa is a heterothallic species. In homothallic reproduction, an individual haploid strain can undergo sexual reproduction without pairing with another strain.To undergo meiosis, a diploid nucleus forms by the fusion of two haploid nuclei. N. galapagoensis is a homothallic species. In pseudohomothallic reproduction, a spore will grow into a dual mating type mixture of nuclei. It can then go through the sexual cycle without having to pair with anything. N. tetrasperma is a pseduohomothallic species. In the asexual cycle, spores germinate and form mycel, which produce aerial hyphae, which produce comidia.”
I told you the fungi had some complicated life cycles. Would I lie to you? Maybe a little but only if it was for your own good. I just found some more really cool stuff about our new friend. No need to worry about getting sick or even having an allergy from Mr./Mrs. mold because it seems Neurospora is apparently incapable of causing disease in animals and has never been shown to be allergenic. Also, not a plant pathogen. Very nice fungi.
From a 2000 short review article in Applied and Environmental Microbiology — Evidence for Safety of Neurospora Species for Academic and Commercial Uses. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2000 Dec; 66(12): 5107–5109.
Note: I have removed all the reference citations but there were many. This was a thoroughly well documented and written short review article. It is publicly available via ncbi at the following link https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC92429/
“Experiments with Neurospora inspired the development of microbial genetics and initiated the molecular revolution in biology by demonstrating that genes encode enzymes. Because of its useful biological attributes, Neurospora crassa has become a favored organism for research in a variety of biological problems and a basic model organism among the filamentous fungi. A vast store of information has been acquired on the organism during 75 years of research. Over 1,000 loci have been mapped on the chromosomes………Fungi of the genus Neurospora have been known in the scientific literature since 1843. The species N. crassa has been used intensively in many laboratories since 1941. Generations of investigators in hundreds of laboratories have used the organism, with results reported in thousands of research papers. (The bibliography of reference 25, for example, contains 2,300 references.)……Never in more than a century of observation and experimentation has the genus been implicated in human disease or observed to cause disease in animals or plants…….
Neurospora species are apparently incapable of causing disease in animals.
Certain innate characteristics make it unlikely that Neurospora will have adverse effects on animals. Unlike yeasts, Neurospora species are obligate aerobes, unable to grow in the gut or bladder, in tissues, or systemically. Aside from its use in the laboratory, Neurospora has long been known to occur in close association with humans in contaminated bakeries, lumber yards, and plywood factories; on steamed logs………Despite the many opportunities for human exposure to the powdery airborne conidia, no evidence has been obtained that Neurospora is the causal agent of any disease or infection.
Despite its abundant, readily airborne conidia, Neurospora does not appear from the medical literature to be a significant allergen. Medical textbooks on allergy either fail to mention Neurospora or refer to the vegetative spores (under the anamorph name Monilia sitophila or Chrysonilia sitophila) as components of airborne spore flora, hence possible allergens………Another text reports a weak skin test reaction to Monilia sitophila, which is stated to be associated with the milling and baking trades. Two of 526 allergy patients in one study showed positive skin and nasal tests in response to Neurospora.”
All good stuff but then comes this section with which I am afraid I must take issue.
Contamination by Neurospora is readily controlled.
(say what what? You sir are a captial L i a r liar, pants on out of control, massive inferno, fire). Because of its high growth rate (3 to 5 mm/h) and the ease with which the powdery conidia become airborne, Neurospora has gained a reputation in some quarters as a laboratory contaminant. (well deserved thank you very much) This reputation is largely undeserved. (hey did you read my mind or something, I hadn’t even read the next sentence yet when I wrote, well deserved thank you very much, and then wouldn’t you know it seems as if you were replying directly to me, crazy.) Cross-contamination or overgrowth of slowly growing cultures by Neurospora is not a problem in any well-ordered research laboratory.(Excuse me sir are you implying that I do not work in a well ordered laboratory, I will have you know, you are correct, but we are getting better) Good laboratory practice includes avoidance of drafts, attention to cleanliness, autoclaving of discarded cultures and contaminated glassware before dishes are washed, and care not to incubate cultures in closed containers in which humidity approaches 100%. Thousands of Neurospora strains are maintained in pure culture, without problems of contamination, in leading research laboratories and at the Fungal Genetics Stock Center, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City. (well good for leading researhch laboratories and the Fungal Genetics Stock Center, aren’t they special, show-offs)
Well kids that about wraps it up for this special May edition of MOTM. Finally right, these things seem to get longer every month. There will be no trivia this month as punishment for the poor showing in last month’s trivia challenge. I kid, it is only partly punishment, it is also because the month is almost over and also because I am lazy. Next month brings an extra special treat as for the first time ever we host a mystery guest author who will be taking over this very space to bring you the latest and greatest educational stuff dropping in the land of micro mixed with the classiness and family friendly humor you have come to expect from MOTM ®. Who is this mystery guest? What is a mystery? If you know the answer to the second question you will surely realize I cannot tell you the answer to the first and if you do not then I suggest you head straight to the library or interwebs and google that sucker. Suffice to say Mr. or Mrs. Mystery has his or her work cut out for them. Following in my footsteps is no easy task and frankly can be pretty intimidating. Just ask the guy who has my old job at Arby’s which I resigned from to take my current role. My old manager Mr. Simmonds has not cut that poor fella any slack at all. He expects the same level of bathroom cleanliness I was able to achieve almost every time from the new guy and this new guy has zero experience. I was coming off of 4 years at Subway doing the same thing, boy do I feel sorry for him.
*No similarity to any other sorting hat, fictional or real, is implied or intended. This is NOT the same sorting hat from Harry Potter and it would be ludicrous to even suggest that. Please do not sue me for I am but a poor microbiologist living on the meager wages of day laborer. It is true, you can have a copy of my W-2’s if you need proof. Yes, I do have a Ph.D., yes it took me that long to get it, and yes I realize how much “real” doctors make, geez do you have to rub it like that.I live at home and drive my mom’s Honda Fit by choice I’ll have you know. I could afford at least a Civic or maybe even an Accord if I really wanted to and those are some pretty awesome rides, am I right? and I have an actual savings account with actual dollar bills in it. Do you have one of those Mr. “real” Doctor? Doubt it. And let me ask you this Dr. McSmarty Pants, which one of us gets to wear the shirt that says “not that kind of doctor?” . No price can be put on a perk that sweet. Go back to med school and call me when you get a real job. I’ll be in the lab, streaking plates, staining grams, and staring into a microscope until my eyes water and burn as my head pulses in agony from the rapid focusing and defocusing, and sweating and cursing, eagerly awaiting your return.