Model Organisms for Biomedical Research
Trans-NIH Neurospora Initiative  

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Neurospora crassa is a eukaryotic multicellular fungus with a sequenced 43 mb genome that contains 10,620 predicted genes – a complexity comparable to that of animal model systems such as Drosophila. Neurospora offers numerous advantages for basic research in genetics, molecular, cell, and evolutionary biology. Not itself a pathogen, it has long served as the model of choice for the 250,000 non-yeast fungal species, which include important animal and plant pathogens.

Characteristics and Advantages:

  • Genetic analysis is readily accomplished. Haploid progeny are easily obtained as random isolates by manual isolation of ascospores or by ascospore plating. Tetrad analysis employs ordered or unordered asci to obtain the four products of individual meiotic events.
  • Genetic (including high density SNP) and physical maps of the seven chromosomes are available, as are photographs and diagrams showing chromosome morphology and behavior during meiosis and ascus development.
  • The genome, midway in size between Saccharomyces and Arabidopsis, is small enough to allow simultaneous sequencing of all chromosomes.
  • Nutritional requirements are simple, growth is rapid, culture is economical, and generation time is less than 3 weeks.
  • Numerous distinct cell types are differentiated during the vegetative and sexual phases of the life cycle. These are altered in morphological mutants.
  • Numerous molecular and genomics tools are available, including regulatable promoters, means to target transforming DNA to known genomic locations, and means to shelter knockouts of essential genes.
  • Cultures of Neurospora are maintained economically in suspended animation, where they remain viable for decades. A culture collection of over 10,000 strains is available, including gene mutations, chromosome rearrangements, and a global collection of isolates from natural populations, which are readily sampled.
  • Transformation is efficient. 100% homologous integration can be achieved, allowing targeted gene inactivation using a variety of selectable markers. Knockouts of novel genes may be requested and will be constructed within weeks as a part of the current Genome Project
  • Among other pioneering contributions, Neurospora was used to demonstrate the one-gene-one-enzyme hypothesis and has provided novel examples of genetic and epigenetic gene silencing. Study of rhythmic vegetative sporulation in Neurospora has resulted in major advances toward understanding the mechanism of circadian rhythms.
  • A large research community of Neurospora workers from many nations cooperate in sharing resources, communicating results, and organizing periodic meetings.
  • A vast store of published information exists on the organism, together with web-based archival resources.

Photo Credit:
Namboori B. Raju, Stanford University

Neurospora - Click to enlarge
This image shows a rosette of maturing asci (meiotic cells) of Neurospora crassa, from Wild type x histone H1-GFP. Histone H1 being a chromosomal protein, the GFP-tagged nuclei (two per spore at this stage) glow in four of the eight ascospores of each ascus; the remaining four ascospores carry the untagged nuclei from the wild-type parent. (Click on image to enlarge.)