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Zygomycota: The Conjugated Fungi

Zygomycota: The Conjugated Fungi

The zygomycetes are a relatively small group of fungi belonging to the Phylum Zygomycota. They include the familiar bread mold, Rhizopus stolonifer, which rapidly propagates on the surfaces of breads, fruits, and vegetables. Most species are saprobes, living off decaying organic material; a few are parasites, particularly of insects. Zygomycetes play a considerable commercial role. The metabolic products of other species of Rhizopus are intermediates in the synthesis of semi-synthetic steroid hormones.

Zygomycetes have a thallus of coenocytic hyphae in which the nuclei are haploid when the organism is in the vegetative stage. The fungi usually reproduce asexually by producing sporangiospores (see the figure below). The black tips of bread mold are the swollen sporangia packed with black spores (see the figure below). When spores land on a suitable substrate, they germinate and produce a new mycelium. Sexual reproduction starts when conditions become unfavorable. Two opposing mating strains (type + and type –) must be in close proximity for gametangia from the hyphae to be produced and fuse, leading to karyogamy.

The developing diploid zygospores have thick coats that protect them from desiccation and other hazards. They may remain dormant until environmental conditions are favorable. When the zygospore germinates, it undergoes meiosis and produces haploid spores, which will, in turn, grow into a new organism. This form of sexual reproduction in fungi is called conjugation (although it differs markedly from conjugation in bacteria and protists), giving rise to the name “conjugated fungi”.

The asexual and sexual life cycles of zygomycetes are shown. In the asexual life cycle, 1n spores undergo mitosis to form long chains of cells called mycelia. Germination results in the formation of more spores. In the sexual life cycle, spores germinate to form mycelia with two different mating types: plus and minus. If the plus and minus mating types are in close proximity, extensions called gametangia form between them. In a process called plasmogamy, the gametangia fuse to form a zygosporangium with multiple haploid nuclei. A thick, protective coat forms around the zygosporangium. In a process called karyogamy, the nuclei fuse to form a zygote with multiple diploid (2n) nuclei. The zygote undergoes meiosis and germination. A sporangium grows on a short stalk. Haploid spores are formed inside. The spores germinate, ending the cycle.

Zygomycetes have asexual and asexual life cycles. In the sexual life cycle, plus and minus mating types conjugate to form a zygosporangium.

 The photo shows a thick layer of green mold growing on bread. Fuzzy white projections grow from the mold.

Sporangia grow at the end of stalks, which appear as (a) white fuzz seen on this bread mold, Rhizopus stolonifer. The (b) tips of bread mold are the spore-containing sporangia. (credit b: modification of work by “polandeze”/Flickr)

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