The Jekyll and Hyde HypothesisWood-rotting fungi belong principally to the Basidiomycota (Mushrooms, Bracket Fungi etc). They are generally considered benign saprobes that inconspicuously recycle massive amounts of woody stuff, and thus contribute significantly to the Carbon Cycle The Jekyll/Hyde hypothesis suggests that this seemingly innocuous, apparently benign, existence masks a remarkable alternative lifestyle. Our research at Guelph suggests that many (most?) wood rotting fungi are also vicious predators that attack and consume a wide variety of microbial life forms. These fungi lure the prey to the site of their destruction and use a remarkable array of trapping devices, including adhesive nets and constricting rings, to capture and kill them. They can also assault victims with paralyzing toxins then locate, seek out and destroy the helpless prey. More important in the larger scheme of things is that we also found that bacterial colonies (including nitrogen fixers) were chemically located, tracked down by directional hyphae, then penetrated and enzymatically digested.
Their life as predators and parasites permits decay fungi to exploit a large pool of biological nitrogen unavailable to bona fide sabrobes (saprophytes). This nutrient from living things allows wood decay fungi to reduce the high C:N of woody substrates to manageable proportions and make fungi the wood rotters par excellence.
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