Hyphal differentiation in the exploring mycelium of Aspergillus niger


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Mycelial fungi play a central role in element cycling in nature by degrading dead organic material such as wood. Fungal colonization of a substrate starts with the invasion of exploring hyphae. These hyphae secrete enzymes that convert the organic material into small molecules that can be taken up by the fungus to serve as nutrients. Using green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a reporter, we show for the first time that exploring hyphae of Aspergillus niger differentiate with respect to enzyme secretion; some strongly express the glucoamylase gene glaA, while others hardly express it at all. When a cytoplasmic GFP was used, 27% of the exploring hyphae of a 5-day-old colony belonged to the low expressing hyphae. By fusing GFP to glucoamylase and by introducing an ER retention signal, this number increased to 50%. This difference is due to cytoplasmic streaming of the reporter in the former case, as was shown by using a photo-activatable GFP. Our findings indicate that a fungal mycelium is highly differentiated, especially when taking into account that hyphae in the exploration zone were exposed to the same nutritional conditions.