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Published 29 August 2019

Endophyte: a new fungus brought to light

In the New Zealand Journal of Botany, researchers present work on fungi partners of Aotearoa’s native grasses, called endophytes. They describe a new endophyte and the increased knowledge could help with developing improved pasture grass cultivars.

New research by Adrian Leuchtmann, Carolyn A. Young, Alan V. Stewart, Wayne R. Simpson, David E. Hume and Barry Scott in the New Zealand Journal of Botany considers the significant role endophytes play in nature, and aims to fill in research gaps surrounding their existence in the Southern Hemisphere.

Endophytes are naturally occurring fungi that live in plants for part of their life cycle. In Aotearoa, they are an important component of nature.

They have not been studied heavily in the Southern Hemisphere, as they are more commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere. However, endophytes are important players in agriculture as their toxicity can protect host plants from external stresses, such as insect attacks. As a downside, they can also produce compounds that are toxic to grazing animals such as sheep.

Further study of endophytes could lead to discoveries that can be exploited to our advantage. In addition, the potential to produce fungal toxins means that further study is necessary to manage risk.

The articleEpichloe novae-zelandiae, a new endophyte from the endemic New Zealand grass Poa matthewsii examines the distribution of endophytes in native New Zealand grasses and tests the likelihood that infected plants will be toxic to grazing animals. 

Their findings reveal the discovery of Epichloe novae-zelandiae – a new endophyte from the endemic New Zealand grass Poa matthewsii.

Leuchtmann, Young, Stewart, Simpson, Hume and Scott dive into the history of this complex interaction, including the long distance of dispersal and various other factors that led to its evolution in New Zealand.

Their findings contribute the understanding of the presence of endophytes in Aotearoa’s native grass flora. There is a potential that the endophyte will be toxic to cattle. However, with the findings of  genetic examination, researchers conclude that the new endophyte is unlikely to produce compounds toxic to cattle.  Moreover, this endophyte may represent a genetic resource that could be exploited to develop more resilient grass species in Aotearoa.

Professor Adrian Leuchtmann is based at the Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, Switzerland. Alan V. Steward is the Chief Scientific Officer at PGG Wrightson Seeds in Christchurch.  Professor Carolyn Young  is based at the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma, USA. Wayne R. Simpson is a scientist at AgResearch in Palmerston North. David E. Hume is a senior scientist in the Plant-Fungal interactions team of Forage Improvement and works at AgResearch as a Science Impact Leader. Barry Scott FRSNZ is a Professor of Molecular Genetics at Massey University, he is also a principal investigator in the Bio-Protection Research Centre.

The research article ‘Epichloe novae-zelandiae, a new endophyte from the endemic New Zealand grass Poa matthewsii’ published in the New Zealand Journal of Botany is available to read in full at Taylor & Francis Online.

RESEARCHER

Adrian Leuchtmann, Carolyn A. Young, Alan V. Stewart, Wayne R. Simpson, David E. Hume & Barry Scott