As decomposers, fungi are key players in recycling plant material in global carbon cycles. We hypothesized that genomes of early diverging fungi may have inherited pectinases from an ancestral species that had been able to extract nutrients from pectin-containing land plants and their algal allies (Streptophytes). We aimed to infer, based on pectinase gene expansions and on the organismal phylogeny, the geological timing of the plant-fungus association. We analyzed 40 fungal genomes, three of which, including Gonapodya prolifera, were sequenced for this study. In the organismal phylogeny from 136 housekeeping loci, Rozella diverged first from all other fungi. Gonapodya prolifera was included among the flagellated, predominantly aquatic fungal species in Chytridiomycota. Sister to Chytridiomycota were the predominantly terrestrial fungi including zygomycota I and zygomycota II, along with the ascomycetes and basidiomycetes that comprise Dikarya. The Gonapodya genome has 27 genes representing five of the seven classes of pectin-specific enzymes known from fungi. Most of these share a common ancestry with pectinases from Dikarya. Indicating functional and sequence similarity, Gonapodya, like many Dikarya, can use pectin as a carbon source for growth in pure culture. Shared pectinases of Dikarya and Gonapodya provide evidence that even ancient aquatic fungi had adapted to extract nutrients from the plants in the green lineage. This implies that 750 million years, the estimated maximum age of origin of the pectin-containing streptophytes represents a maximum age for the divergence of Chytridiomycota from the lineage including Dikarya.
Keywords: Gonapodya; carbohydrate active enzymes; evolution; fungal phylogeny; geological time; pectinases; streptophytes.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.