- • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) form symbioses with the majority of plants and form extensive underground hyphal networks simultaneously connecting the roots of different plant species. No empirical evidence exists for either anastomosis between genetically different AMF or genetic exchange.
- • Five isolates of one population of Glomus intraradices were used to study anastomosis between hyphae of germinating spores. We show that genetically distinct AMF, from the same field, anastomose, resulting in viable cytoplasmic connections through which genetic exchange could potentially occur.
- • Pairs of genetically different isolates were then co-cultured in an in vitro system. Freshly produced spores were individually germinated to establish new cultures. Using several molecular tools, we show that genetic exchange occurred between genetically different AMF. Specific genetic markers from each parent were transmitted to the progeny. The progeny were viable, forming symbioses with plant roots. The phenotypes of some of the progeny were significantly different from either parent.
- • Our results indicate that considerable promiscuity could occur in these fungi because nine out of 10 combinations of different isolates anastomosed. The ability to perform genetic crosses between AMF experimentally lays a foundation for understanding the genetics and evolutionary biology of these important plant symbionts.