2016 AMS Scientific Meeting

The 2016 scientific meeting of the Australasian Mycological Society was held in Queenstown, New Zealand in conjunction with the Fungal Network of New Zealand  (FUNNZ )

The combined 2016 AMS/FUNNZ scientific conference was a great success, with 70 delegates from 10 different countries, including  Spain, England, France, China, Japan, South Korea, New Caledonia, the USA and of course Australia and New Zealand. Queenstown put on a wonderful show of autumnal colours and Rydges Hotel provided great facilities and catering. A full report on the conference is below.

Many thanks to the conference committee of Bevan Weir (Chair), John Dearnaley, Peter Buchanan, Leona Campbell, Celeste Linde, David Orlovich and Jeff Powell for running an excellent meeting. Thanks also to Peter Buchanan, Tom May and Sapphire McMullan-Fisher for co-ordinating the pre-conference workshop on Red-Listing of Fungi in Oceania and Sapphire McMullan-Fisher for the workshop in Tertiary Mycology Teaching. It is hoped that some important new initiatives come out of both of these workshops. 

Teresa Lebel and Sapphire raised over $1000 dollars with their silent auction at the conference dinner. The money will be split between the Ross Beever Memorial Mycological Award and the Jack Warcup Memorial Prize.

The fungal foray at Glenorchy was also very successful with a bewildering array of Cortinarius, Russula, Laccaria, Amanita, truffles and other species on show.  It was great to see such energy and goodwill from our Australasian mycological community.

The 2016 AMS meeting began with a workshop on Red-listing of Fungi in Oceania, chaired by Tom May (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria), Peter Buchanan (NZ Landcare Research) and Sapphire McMullan Fisher (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria). In this workshop, attendees learnt of procedures used for the composition of the IUCN fungal Red list (which currently records 33 species globally and two Australasian taxa). Of interest was the IUCN’s definition of separate fungal individuals in a defined area ie. fruiting bodies separated by at least 10 m. Tom stressed that Red fungal lists, although useful in the evaluation of the risk of extinction of fungal species and in prioritising management decisions for such taxa, were only the start of the process in protecting significant fungal species. Attendees were encouraged to make submissions of candidate species for Red listing in their region and globally.

A second workshop “Australasian Mycology Education” was chaired by Sapphire McMullan Fisher and John Dearnaley (University of Southern Queensland) and focussed on the dearth of mycological teaching, particularly in the tertiary sector, in Australasia. A SWOT analysis was conducted within the group to examine the potential for the AMS to improve mycology education in the region. Several actions resulted from these discussions. The first is to completely survey the universities in Australia and New Zealand to establish what campuses still offered mycology courses or courses with at least some mycological component. This list will be placed on the society website so that students seeking mycological studies can target these institutions. A second major decision was to look into transfering the information currently in a University of Sydney teaching resource on fungi to the AMS website. Lastly it was discussed, that in the longer term, the AMS would explore the possibility of running a tertiary level online course or MOOC in mycology.

On day two, the first plenary session was given by Brian Monk (Department of Oral Sciences, University of Otago) entitled “Can we discover better antifungals?” In his address, Brian outlined the impacts of fungal pathogens on society i.e. deaths of 1.4 million per year and major effects on food production. New antifungals are needed as existing drugs have limited efficacy and because of the evolution of resistance in many pathogens. In his endeavours to find novel drugs, Brian has focussed on the structure and function of fungal integral membrane proteins, especially drug pumps, ion transporters and cytochrome P450 proteins.  He has used a variety of investigative approaches including molecular biology, advanced microscopy, combinatorial chemistry and X-ray crystallography.  His research has recently characterised a number of key antifungal drug targets including an ABC transporter CaCdr1p (specifically inhibited by the D-octapeptide, RC21v3) and lanosterol 14a-demethylases from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the fungal pathogens Candida albicans and C. glabrata (acted on by the azole drugs). Such structure-directed approaches to drug discovery are novel and exciting and suggest that the potential, disastrous end to the era of antibiotics may at least be delayed for some time.

Delegates at the pre-conference workshop on Red-listing of Fungi in Oceania

(Photo courtesy of Susan Nuske)

The spectacular view of Lake Wakatipu from the conference dining room (Photo courtesy of Susan Nuske)

A conference session in “Medical Mycology” followed on neatly from the first plenary address. Laszlo Irinyi (University of Sydney) discussed the development of a new DNA barcode that can be used to enable fast and accurate identification of mycotic agents. The translation elongation factor 1a region (tef1a) showed less variability at species level and had higher resolution at interspecies level than ITS DNA for a number of fungal pathogenic species. Kenya Fernandez (University of Sydney) next outlined associations between capsule production, cell size and clinical outcomes in Cryptococcus spp. In C. neoformans strains, higher pathogenicity was associated with larger polysaccharide capsules while in C. gattii isolates, larger cell size was significantly associated with patient death. Wendy McKinney (Auckland City Hospital) discussed lessons learned in a recent outbreak of invasive aspergillosis in a Children’s Hospital. Measures to reduce further cases included removal of contaminated carpets, rectifying ventilation approaches, the use of patient masks and enhanced cleaning of the unit. Samra Qaraghuli (Flinders University) described investigations of the antibacterial properties of Australian macrofungi. Of 170 species screened, a significant proportion produced antibacterial compounds, including those that inhibited biofilms and blocked bacterial efflux pumps. Ningxin Zhang (Massey University) finished the session with an explanation of a new Next Generation sequencing (NGS)-based Multilocus Sequence Typing (MLST) approach for detecting multiple Candida albicans genotypes in clinical specimens. The approach is less costly than MLST, can be used on multiple colonies from a patient and therefore represents a significant technological advance.

The session after lunch was entitled “Molecular Mycology”. First up, Zachary Ardern (University of Auckland) discussed his research into genes involved in environmental adaptation in S. cerevisiae. In his experiments, sexual and asexual reproducing strains of the microbe were grown under either low carbon and raised temperature or low nitrogen and raised sodium chloride concentration. After 300 generations, Illumina Hi-Seq showed multiple genetic changes including SNPs with different frequencies and effects and duplication of different hexose transporter genes in the low carbon treatment. David Orlovich (University of Otago) next discussed comparative genomic and transcriptomic studies of the truffle-like fungus Cortinarius beeverorum and its close mushroom relative C. dulciolens. Both species had approximately 10,000 genes although the number was slightly higher in C. dulciolens. Interestingly, C. beeverorum had 100 unique highly expressed genes, whereas C. dulciolens had about 80 unique highly expressed genes. Sophie Lev (University of Sydney) outlined recent studies of phosphate-induced cell signalling in Cryptococcus neoformans. IP7 appears to be necessary for the activation of phosphate mobilising enzymes and phosphate transporters in C. neoformans, a crucial to adaptation within the environment of a mammalian host and in disseminated cryptococcosis. Dee Carter (University of Sydney) next explained research into enhancing the effects of existing antifungal targets using synergistic agents. While synergy was found between amphotericin B and the chelating protein lactoferrin, antagonistic reactions were seen between azoles and some chelators in C. neoformans var grubii. The final speaker in the session was Aidan Kane (University of Sydney) who detailed his research into approaches to prevent azole resistance in fungal pathogens. Some synergies have been observed with the combined use of upstream inhibitors in Candida, Aspergillus and Cryptococcus.

Delegates enjoying the conference dinner and perusing silent auction items at the Queenstown Skyline Stratosfare restaurant (Photo courtesy of Peter Buchanan).

The final session of day two of the conference was entitled “Plant and Insect Pathogens”. Marie-Laure Desprez-Loustau (INRA) discussed how three invasive Erysiphe species were differentially distributed on Quercus hosts throughout Europe. E. quercicola was largely found in southern regions and only on Quercus seedlings while E. hypophylla was found in Northern and Central Europe and typically on lower leaf surfaces. E. alphitoides, cause of major plant epidemics in the early 20th century, was the most widely distributed pathogen and was found on trees of all ages and on all leaf surfaces. Judy Gardner (NZ Forest Protection) next described two Phytophthora pathogens affecting Pinus plantations in New Zealand. P. kernoviae appears to be native to New Zealand while P. pluvialis is likely to have been introduced. These species form sporangia on the needle surface and released zoospores are attracted to stomata through which they penetrate into internal tissues. Nick Cummings (Lincoln University) outlined New Zealand collections of the arthropod pathogen Cordyceps and its anamorphs. More collections of this group are needed, as well, molecular work needs to be conducted on many existing herbarium specimens to clarify identifications. Maj Padamsee (Landcare Research) described how the majority of the 125 native New Zealand rust fungi are autoecious (have one host). Molecular examination has however recently confirmed that species in the genera Mikronegeria and Aecidium have alternate hosts. The final speaker in the session, Merje Toome (NZ Ministry for Primary Industries) outlined some of the challenges her department faced in making informed biosecurity decisions on potential invasive fungal and fungal-like pathogens. Molecular identification of all potential pathogens and staying up-to-date with taxonomy is essential to determine whether species are new or already present in New Zealand.

The day finished with a most enjoyable conference dinner at the spectacular Skyline Stratosfare restaurant high on the mountain above Queenstown. The evening’s proceedings were greatly enlivened by a silent auction of mycological paraphernalia run by Teresa Lebel (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) and Sapphire McMullan-Fisher. Over $1000 was raised with the money to be split between two student awards, the Ross Beever Memorial Mycological Award and the Jack Warcup Memorial Prize.

Day three of the conference began with a plenary address by Ian Dickie (Lincoln University) entitled “Multi-kingdom interactions in invasion: plants, fungi and animals. He began by talking about how the introduction of exotic tree species such as Pinus, Pseudostuga, Alnus and Salix into New Zealand has been accompanied by the invasion of exotic ectomycorrhizal fungal taxa. These fungi, including species of Amanita, Rhizopogon and Suillus, curiously have developed a novel ecology with exotic animal species such as red deer and brushtail possums that consume fungal fruit bodies and disseminate spores. Pinus-fungal invasions into New Zealand grasslands and shrublands has impaired soil ecology by decreasing the numbers of native mites and nematodes and increased soil bacteria via raising soil P and N levels. This in turn has enhanced the intrusion of exotic grasses and ultimately resulted in an overall loss of native plants and fungi from native ecosystems. What is to be done with this “homogecenic” disaster? Planting native seedlings around pines herbicide-drilled may be one approach. Exploring the role that native New Zealand bird species such as Kiwis and Wekas play in fungal spore dispersal (and reintroducing such species back into restored ecosystems) may have merit. More studies on the ecology of fungi in both disturbed and intact New Zealand ecosystems are also clearly necessary.

A session on “Fungal Ecology” followed morning tea. The first speaker, Renee Johansen (University of Auckland) explained her research on the root fungal communities of the cosmopolitan dune grass Ammophila arenaria (marram grass). NGS of fungal DNA in plant roots from multiple locations in New Zealand and Australia showed a wide diversity of predominately ascomycetes which varied between sites and country. This suggests that local environmental conditions are key to defining the fungal community of A. arenaria. Sarah Knight (University of Auckland) described her genetic study of 10,000 isolates of Saccharomyces cerevisiae from natural and agricultural regions across New Zealand. Surprisingly little genetic differentiation was observed within each region, even between neighbouring native forests and vineyards. At locations separated by distances greater than 100km, varying degrees of genetic differentiation were observed and this may relate to movement of fruit in the wine industry. Michael Rostas (Lincoln University) outlined his research on the metabolic and transcriptional changes that occur in insect herbivore-challenged plants previously colonised by the endophytic fungi Trichoderma atroviride, Beauveria bassiana and Epichloe uncinatum. Interestingly these endophytes did not trigger classic plant defence pathways involving jasmonic acid and salicylic acid and herbivore resistance may be mediated by an increase in volatile compounds such as monoterpenes. Julie Deslippe (Victoria University of Wellington) described investigations of the mycelial network of the shrub, Betula nana which is expanding its range into the Arctic tundra due to global warming. Stable isotope labelling experiments and DNA sequencing suggested that a single species of Cortinarius links and transfers C between multiple B. nana shrubs giving the plant an advantage over competitors and enhancing its invasive ability. Samuel Tourtellot (Lincoln University) described his research into the mycorrhizal partners of introduced Eucalyptus species in New Zealand. Experiments showed the ectomycorrhizal community of Eucalyptus grown in New Zealand soil was relatively depauperate. Additionally, invasive Eucalyptus species were more responsive to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) than ectomycorrhizal species. Sarah Sapsford (Murdoch University) finished the session with an overview of her PhD research into the impacts of canker disease on the mycorrhizal ecology of Corymbia calophylla (Marri). NGS was used to compare the fungal community of both adult trees across a gradient of disturbance and in seedlings grown in soil from along the gradient. Mycorrhizal fungal taxa and functional types were shown to change across the gradient in roots of both adult trees and seedlings.

The second session of the day focussed on Fungal Conservation. Tom May spoke on threat-status listing of fungi in Australia and future directions for fungal conservation. He highlighted that currently only a single species of an Australian-occurring fungus, Claustula fisheri is listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, none are listed nationally and 45 species are listed under state and territory legislation in Australia. More nominations are clearly needed although it should be emphasized that listing does little to mitigate extinction and action plans are needed particularly in protecting habitat and perhaps in creating Millenium Seed and Fungi Banks. Peter Buchanan discussed the risk that imported mycorrhizal inoculum might have on native species of fungi in New Zealand. These products, which appear to evade biosecurity questions with relative ease, contain species of Pisolithus and Scleroderma which are foreign to the country. Veronique Gourmelon (Institut Agronomique neo-Caledonien) described investigations of the fungal and bacterial communities of four different plant formations in New Caledonia. NGS showed that each formation had a specific microbial community structure with high plant cover correlating with higher fungal diversity. This information will inform conservation and restoration actions for these biodiversity hotspots. Patrick Leonard (Queensland Mycological Society) next outlined the history of the IUCN Red lists and explained the reason that fungi have been relatively neglected from these is largely due to the lack of scientific data. He suggested a number of strategies that might be adopted to protect fungal biodiversity in light of this. 1. Wait for the science to catch up (which is also likely to result in species extinctions), 2. Protect habitat and 3. List species and “be damned”. The latter would likely provide the best chance of lowering the extinction rate of threatened fungal taxa. Alex Coles (Victoria University of Wellington) discussed investigations of the AMF communities of Phormium tenax across a hydrologic gradient of a New Zealand wetland restoration site. Hypotheses tested were that AMF diversity and biomass is higher in older restoration stages during summer and lower in flooded early restoration stages in winter. The final speaker in the session Sapphire McMullan-Fisher outlined research into the impacts of controlled burning on soil fungal populations in Australian urban grasslands. NGS of soil fungal DNA from multiple sites showed that fire frequency and not time since fire had the greatest impact on fungal community composition. In particular, the diversity of AMF was reduced in sites which had frequent controlled fires and this may have been related to an associated shift in plant community composition.

The final session of the conference, “Systematics”, began with a talk by Roy Halling (New York Botanical Garden) on the genus Austroboletus. This group of Boletaeae are distinct with pinkish ornamented spores and a stipe with cavities or a network pattern and are mostly found in countries of the western Pacific.  Australia has approximately 16 species while New Zealand has 2. More specimens from neighbouring countries such as New Caledonia, PNG and Indonesia are keenly sought. Barbara Thiers (New York Botanical Garden) next explained the Macrofungi Collections Consortium (MaCC) a group of 40 US institutions that collectively have digitized and shared collection information from about 1.5 million herbarium samples of fungi as well as approximately 25,000 images of live specimens. A parallel Microfungi Collection Consortium (MiCC) is contributing similar information regarding micofungi. These initiatives are funded by the National Science Foundation and will be available to international researchers by 2018. Pam Catcheside (State Herbarium of South Australia) delighted the conference with her descriptions of six under-collected small black discomycetes (Pezizales, Ascomycota) from South Australia. Macro and microscopic features, Australian distribution and molecular data were provided for species in the genera Sphaerosoma, Marcelleina, Plectania, Plicaria and Boudiera. Hyun Lee outlined his study of Lactarius (Russulales, Basidiomycota) diversity in South Korea. ITS sequencing of 574 fruiting bodies and NGS of 94 soil samples revealed 100 species of Lactarius - 48 more than previously reported for the country. Javier Fernandez-Lopez (Real Jardin Botanico, Madrid) described his investigations of Schizopora radula (Hymenochaetales, Basidiomycota). 50 specimens of this white wood rot fungus were examined from around the world and these separated into 4 different taxa based on morphological characterisation, nuclear DNA sequence analysis (ITS, LSU, RPB2, EF1α) and ecological niche modelling. Zai-Wei Ge (Chinese Academy of Sciences) explained his assessment of Leucocoprineae (Agaricales, Basidiomycota) diversity in China using both morphological and molecular approaches. His research showed that there were 46 species present within the genera Chlorophyllum, Clarkeinda, Leucoagaricus, Leucocoprinus and Macrolepiota. Many of these species had been previously misidentified and their phylogeny misinterpreted. To close the session, Teresa Lebel (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) discussed her revision of the Australasian “roll rims”; the genera Austropaxillus and Gymnopaxillus (Boletales, Basidiomycota). Investigations using a 3-gene data set and morphological approaches validated seven described species, highlighted five undescribed species and suggested that all should be renamed “Gymnopaxillus

At the end of the meeting, David Orlovich and Peter Buchanan presented the Jack Warcup Memorial Prizes for best student presentations. Best student talk went to Kenya Fernandez for her seminar titled “Associations between capsule production, cell size and clinical outcome in C. neoformans and C. gattii clinical isolates”. Best student poster was awarded to Hyun Lee for his presentation entitled Phylogenetic diversity of Polyporus sensu lato (Polyporales, Basidiomycota) in Korea”. Many of the delegates then moved onto three days of fungal collecting at the magnificent forests of Glenorchy (coordinated by FUNNZ).

It has been a number of years since the last AMS meeting in New Zealand (the previous get-together was in Waikanae in the North Island in 2009) and the success of this conference provides impetus for more regular AMS meetings in the “Land of the Long White Cloud”.

John Dearnaley

AMS President

Kenya Fernandez is congratulated for her “best student talk” by David Orlovich (Photo courtesy of Susan Nuske)

Hyun Lee next to his award-winning poster (Photo courtesy of Susan Nuske)

Conference delegates at the end of the meeting (Photo courtesy of Peter Buchanan)

The fungal foray at Glenorchy organised by FUNNZ, and just a few of the spectacular species on display. Many thanks to Susan Nuske for supplying these lovely images.