During the development of multicellular eukaryotes, the processes of cellular growth and organogenesis are tightly coordinated. Since the 1940s, filamentous fungi have served as genetic model organisms to decipher basic mechanisms underlying eukaryotic cell differentiation. Here, we focus on Sordaria macrospora, a homothallic ascomycete and important model organism for developmental biology. During its sexual life cycle, S. macrospora forms three-dimensional fruiting bodies, a complex process involving the formation of different cell types. S. macrospora can be used for genetic, biochemical and cellular experimental approaches since diverse tools, including fluorescence microscopy, a marker recycling system and gene libraries, are available. Moreover, the genome of S. macrospora has been sequenced and allows functional genomics analyses. Over the past years, our group has generated and analysed a number of developmental mutants which has greatly enhanced our fundamental understanding about fungal morphogenesis. In addition, our recent research activities have established a link between developmental proteins and conserved signalling cascades, ultimately leading to a regulatory network controlling differentiation processes in a eukaryotic model organism. This review summarizes the results of our recent findings, thus advancing current knowledge of the general principles and paradigms underpinning eukaryotic cell differentiation and development.
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