Genetics and evolution of the mycorrhizal symbiosis

Molecular Genetics and Evolution

Our work focuses on the mycorrhizal symbiosis between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The symbiosis occurs in the majority of terrestrial plant species. Through the effects of the fungus on plant phosphorus acquisition, plants benefit and can grow better when forming the symbiosis. The association is ancient and our group seeks to understand the genetics and evolution of these important fungi and how AM fungal genetics can influence plant growth.

We have demonstrated three features of AM genetics that have important consequences for how plants grow. First, the fungi harbour genetically different nuclei in a common cytoplasm. Second, the fungi can fuse and the nuclei can mix giving rise to genetically novel AM fungi. Third, segregation of nuclei occurs during spore formation, giving rise to genetically different AM fungi. Both mixing of nuclei and segregation have important conseqences on the growth of rice. We manipulate the genetics of AM fungi using these processes to study which genes are affected in the plant by genetic changes in the fungus. These processes are natural and involve no gene insertion. A part of our work involves applying this technology to produce new strains of AM fungi for commerical inoculation of crops in Colombia (in collaboration with the National University of Colombia).


Recent Publications

  • Decreasing relatedness among mycorrhizal fungi in a shared plant network increases fungal network size but not plant benefit
    van't Padje, Anouk; Klein, Malin; Caldas, Victor; Galvez, Loreto Oyarte; Broersma, Cathleen; et al.
    Ecology Letters 10.1111/ele.13947 FEB 2022
  • Generation of unequal nuclear genotype proportions in Rhizophagus irregularis progeny causes allelic imbalance in gene transcription
    Robbins, Chanz; Cruz Corella, Joaquim; Aletti, Consolee; Seiler, Rejane; Mateus, Ivan D.; et al.
    New Phytologist 10.1111/nph.17530  SEP 2021
  • The methylome of the model arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus, Rhizophagus irregularis, shares characteristics with early diverging fungi and Dikarya
    Chaturvedi, Anurag; Corella, Joaquim Cruz; Robbins, Chanz; Loha, Anita; Menin, Laure; et al.
    Communications Biology 10.1038/s42003-021-02414-5  JUL 22 2021
  • The Phosphate Inhibition Paradigm: Host and Fungal Genotypes Determine Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungal Colonization and Responsiveness to Inoculation in Cassava With Increasing Phosphorus Supply
    Venegas, Ricardo Alexander Pena; Lee, Soon-Jae; Thuita, Moses; Mlay, Deusdedit Peter; Masso, Cargele; et al.
    Frontiers In Plant Science 10.3389/fpls.2021.693037  JUN 22 2021
  • Co-existence of AMF with different putative MAT-alleles induces genes homologous to those involved in mating in other fungi: a reply to Malar et al.
    Mateus, Ivan D.; Lee, Soon-Jae; Sanders, Ian R.
    Isme Journal 10.1038/s41396-021-00979-x   Early Access: MAY 2021
  • Hierarchical spatial sampling reveals factors influencing arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus diversity in Cote d'Ivoire cocoa plantations
    Rincon, Cristian; Droh, Germain; Villard, Lucas; Masclaux, Frederic G.; N'guetta, Assanvo; et al.
    Mycorrhiza, 10.1007/s00572-020-01019-w  FEB 2021
  • Genetically Different Isolates of the Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungus Rhizophagus irregularis Induce Differential Responses to Stress in Cassava
    Pena, Ricardo; Robbins, Chanz; Corella, Joaquim Cruz; Thuita, Moses; Masso, Cargele; Vanlauwe, Bernard; Signarbieux, Constant; Rodriguez, Alia; Sanders, Ian R
    Frontiers In Plant Science,10.3389/fpls.2020.596929   DEC 2 2020
  • Greater topoclimatic control of above- versus below-ground communities
    Mod HK; Scherrer D; Di Cola V; Broennimann O; Blandenier Q;  Breiner, FT; Buri A; Goudet, J; Guex, N; Lara, E; Mitchell, EAD; Niculita-Hirzel, H; Pagni, M; Pellissier, L; Pinto-Figueroa, E; Sanders, IR; Schmidt, BR; Seppey, CVW; Singer, D; Ursenbacher, S; Yashiro, E; van der Meer, JR; Guisan, A
    Global Change Biology  DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15330  DEC 2020
  • Coexistence of genetically differentRhizophagus irregularisisolates induces genes involved in a putative fungal mating response
    Mateus, Ivan D.; Rojas, Edward C.; Savary, Romain; Dupuis, Cindy; Masclaux, Frederic G.; et al.
    Isme Journal  DOI: 10.1038/s41396-020-0694-3  Published: OCT 2020
  • Genetic variation and evolutionary history of a mycorrhizal fungus regulate the currency of exchange in symbiosis with the food security crop cassava
    Savary, Romain; Dupuis, Cindy; Masclaux, Frederic G.; Mateus, Ivan D.; Rojas, Edward C.; Sanders, Ian R.
    Isme Journal  DOI: 10.1038/s41396-020-0606-6  FEB 2020
  • Investigating unexplained genetic variation and its expression in the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Rhizophagus irregularis: A comparison of whole genome and RAD sequencing data
    Masclaux, Frederic G.; Wyss, Tania; Pagni, Marco; Rosikiewicz, Pawel; Sanders, Ian R.
    Plos One 14 Issue: 12 Article Number: e0226497 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226497 DEC 27 2019
  • Effect of co-application of phosphorus fertilizer and in vitro-produced mycorrhizal fungal inoculants on yield and leaf nutrient concentration of cassava
    Aliyu, IA; Yusuf, AA; Uyovbisere, EO; Masso, C; Sanders, IR
    PLOS ONE, 14 (6):10.1371/journal.pone.0218969 JUN 26 2019
  • Dual RNA-seq reveals large-scale non-conserved genotype x genotype-specific genetic reprograming and molecular crosstalk in the mycorrhizal symbiosis
    Mateus, ID; Masclaux, FG; Aletti, C; Rojas, EC; Savary, R; Dupuis, C; Sanders, IR
    ISME JOURNAL, 13 (5):1226-1238; 10.1038/s41396-018-0342-3 MAY 2019
  • Variation in allele frequencies at the bg112 locus reveals unequal inheritance of nuclei in a dikaryotic isolate of the fungus Rhizophagus irregularis
    Masclaux, Frederic G.; Wyss, Tania; Mateus-Gonzalez, Ivan D.; Aletti, Consolee; Sanders, Ian R.
    MYCORRHIZA, 28 (4):369-377; 10.1007/s00572-018-0834-z MAY 2018
  • Sex, plasticity, and biologically significant variation in one Glomeromycotina species
    Sanders I.R.
    New Phytologist, 10.1111/nph.15049   2018
Ian Sanders

Prof. Dr. Ian R. Sanders
University of Lausanne
Department of Ecology and Evolution
1015 Lausanne

Tel: +41 (0)21 692 42 61

Research topics

  • Genetics and evolutionary genetics of AM fungi 
  • Influence of AM fungal genetics on the symbiosis with plants
  • Importance of AM fungal diversity on plant communities
  • Biotechnological application of AM fungi in tropical agriculture in Colombia


  • Molecular genetics
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Agronomy
  • Plant – microbe interactions