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Christine Strullu-Derrien

Christine Strullu-Derrien

Department visited: Palaeobiology

How long did you stay at the museum, and what did you work with?

I stayed two weeks at the museum working with Dr Steve McLoughlin. My research concerns the origins and evolution of the relationships between plants and fungi/fungi-like microorganisms.

What is the major objective to achieve during your stay at the Swedish Museum of Natural History?

The major objective is to extend my observations to additional groups of fungi and fungi-like microorganisms and to provide new insights into the evolutionary history of the relationships between plants, fungi and fungi-like microorganisms, especially in Carboniferous-Permian times.

What attracted you to apply for a SYNTHESYS grant, and in particular for SYNTHESYS grant to visit our musuem?

A SYNTHESYS grant gives you the opportunity to visit and work on collections and this is the base of my work. I know the importance of the NRM collections and I am collaborating with a colleague; it is why I am particularly interested to visit NRM.

Which university are you from, and what is your position and daily work there?

I have been at the Natural History Museum London as a Marie Curie fellow until last September. I am currently an associate researcher at this institution. I am also giving lectures in geology, evolution and plant biology at Agrocampus Ouest, Angers (France).

What is your experience from visiting department, the collections and the museum so far?

I did several visits to the Department and I know the value of the collections for my research. These collections are unique and allow to discover new organisms. I am collaborating with Steve McLoughlin for my research. One paper has been published in collaboration in 2012, two other papers are currently prepared for submission.

Did you have time to look around in Stockholm?

I visited the town to do some Christmas shopping and I spent a long time in Gamla Stan  which I enjoyed very much.

Something else you want to tell other European scientists about the SYNTHESYS programme or our museum?

I encourage European scientists to apply for Synthesys grants. They offer a real opportunity for your research and all is done from the Institutions to make your visit successful and enjoyable.

Project summary

Lyginopteris oldhamia stem showing colonization by the oomycete Combresomyces williamsonii.

A fungal way of life (mycelial growth and mode of nutrition) is shared by several major living groups of organisms, notably Fungi and Fungi-like microorganisms (oomycetes). Many of these form close associations with plants.

The fossil record of these associations is sparce despite the fact that the link between plants and microorganisms is known to extend back to the dawn of life on land. The earliest evidence of symbiotic association involving fungi comes from plant stems in the Devonian Rhynie Chert.

Associations specific to the roots of plants, by far the most common type in the modern flora, are known from the Upper Carboniferous. The fungi-like Oomycetes have recently been recognised in Palaeozoic ecosystems and the first occurence of parasitism has been described in the Carboniferous pteridosperm Lyginopteris.

During my PhD, I developed and validated the general approach, which seeks fossil evidence of fungi and fungi-like microorganisms in historic slide collections now housed in Natural History Museums.

These collections are especially important because plant petrifactions often contain preserved fungi and fungi-like microorganisms which were not the original focus of study. Each of these collections is unique, and therefore, represents an invaluable new source of data on associations between fungi, fungi-like microorganisms and plants which will allow to trace their evolutionary history.

Diagram illustrating dual fungal colonization of the fossil plant Horneophyton lignieri from the 407 Myr-old Rhynie Chert.