Rapid responses to changes in incident light are critical to the guidance of behavior and development in most species. Phytochrome light receptors in particular play key roles in bacterial physiology and plant development, but their functions and regulation are less well understood in fungi. Nevertheless, genome-wide expression measurements provide key information that can guide experiments that reveal how genes respond to environmental signals and clarify their role in development. We performed functional genomic and phenotypic analyses of the two phytochromes in Neurospora crassa, a fungal model adapted to a postfire environment that experiences dramatically variable light conditions. Expression of phy-1 and phy-2 was low in early sexual development and in the case of phy-2 increased in late sexual development. Under light stimulation, strains with the phytochromes deleted exhibited increased expression of sexual development-related genes. Moreover, under red light, the phy-2 knockout strain commenced sexual development early. In the evolution of phytochromes within ascomycetes, at least two duplications have occurred, and the faster-evolving phy-2 gene has frequently been lost. Additionally, the three key cysteine sites that are critical for bacterial and plant phytochrome function are not conserved within fungal phy-2 homologs. Through the action of phytochromes, transitions between asexual and sexual reproduction are modulated by light level and light quality, presumably as an adaptation for fast asexual growth and initiation of sexual reproduction of N. crassa in exposed postfire ecosystems.
Wang, Zheng; Li, Ning; Li, Jigang; Dunlap, Jay C.; Trail, Frances; and Townsend, Jeffrey P., "The Fast-Evolving phy-2 Gene Modulates Sexual Development in Response to Light in the Model Fungus Neurospora crassa" (2016). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles. 3418.