Sexual development and cryptic sexuality in fungi: insights from Aspergillus species


Correspondence: Paul S. Dyer, School of Biology, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK. Tel.: +44 115 9513251; fax: +44 115 9513251; e-mail:


Major insights into sexual development and cryptic sexuality within filamentous fungi have been gained from investigations using Aspergillus species. Here, an overview is first given into sexual morphogenesis in the aspergilli, describing the different types of sexual structures formed and how their production is influenced by a variety of environmental and nutritional factors. It is argued that the formation of cleistothecia and accessory tissues, such as Hülle cells and sclerotia, should be viewed as two independent but co-ordinated developmental pathways. Next, a comprehensive survey of over 75 genes associated with sexual reproduction in the aspergilli is presented, including genes relating to mating and the development of cleistothecia, sclerotia and ascospores. Most of these genes have been identified from studies involving the homothallic Aspergillus nidulans, but an increasing number of studies have now in addition characterized ‘sex-related’ genes from the heterothallic species Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus. A schematic developmental genetic network is proposed showing the inter-relatedness between these genes. Finally, the discovery of sexual reproduction in certain Aspergillus species that were formerly considered to be strictly asexual is reviewed, and the importance of these findings for cryptic sexuality in the aspergilli as a whole is discussed.