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Logo 22nd ISBC & 20th ISLS


Bioluminescence diversity, ecology and applications in conservation

Unveiling the hidden glow: contributions to the biodiversity, conservation, and evolutionary studies of bioluminescent fungi in Brazil

Douglas M. M. Soares1

1Department of Fundamental Chemistry, Institute of Chemistry, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.

E-mail: douglas@iq.usp.br

More than 125 known species of fungi, all part of the Agaricales order, can spontaneously emit light. Currently, they are distributed across five distinct lineages: Armillaria, Omphalotus, Mycenoid, Lucentipes and the latest discovered Eoscyphella. All bioluminescent fungi share the same mecanism: the light emission results from the oxidation of a luciferin derived from caffeic acid by oxygen under the action of the enzyme luciferase. Since 2018, our group has been collecting over than 100 bioluminescent fungi specimens at the area surrounding the Alto do Ribeira Touristic Park, located at the Atlantic Rainforest biome in Brazil (Iporanga and Apiaí, São Paulo state). In a collaborative effort including researchers from São Paulo (Brazil) and California (USA) we have been working on the morphological and molecular analyses from these specimens, contributing with the understanding on the ecology, evolution, and biodiversity of the bioluminescent fungi occurring in Brazil. One of our latest collections led to the discovery of a fifth and new lineage of bioluminescent fungi in 2023: Eoscyphella, the tiniest glowing mushroom ever seen. Combined with the morphological description of the specimens, fungal DNA barcoding, including the assessment of ITS (Internal Transcribed Spacers) and the rRNA gene encoding the large ribosomal subunit (LSU), has led to a fast specimens’ identification and providing the genetic data for phylogenetic studies. Furthermore, recent evidences have suggested the need of obtaining additional genetic data to resolve the phylogeny of certain groups. For instance, studies of phylogenetic replacement are being conducted from the DNA- and RNA-seq data for the species initially classified as Mycena lucentipes and Gerronema viridilucens which actually belongs to the same genus. We also have successfully isolated pure cultures from 36 different bioluminescent fungal species, which makes our group the main holder of bioluminescent fungi in the world. In addition to provide us biological material for routinely laboratory experiments, this collection is also extremely relevant for the conservation of biodiversity and fungal genetic resources. Thus way, the initiatives above mentioned effectively contribute with relevant information on fungal biodiversity as well as with further studies focusing on the origin and evolution of fungal bioluminescence.

Keywords: Bioluminescence, ITS, LSU, fungal systematics, evolution.

Acknowledgments: São Paulo Research Foundation (Grants 2017/22501-2 and 2019/12605-0).

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