Three way lichens found, according to reports in ScienceDaily 21 July 2016, Science News videos 28 July 2016 and Science, 2016, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8287.

Lichens are the classic example of symbiosis, and have long been recognised as being a combination of two separate and distinct organisms combining to make a single functioning entity. Lichens consist of algae or cyanobacteria combined with a fungus. The algae and cyanobacteria are photosynthetic (like plants), and produce food, while the fungus provides structure and protection.

Although the specific fungi and algae that jointly form lichens have been separately identified, the Science editorial summary comments “lichen growth forms cannot be recapitulated in the laboratory by culturing the plant and fungal partners together”. Furthermore, lichens consisting of the same fungus and algae can have very different forms, but scientists did not know why. For example a lichen named Bryoria tortuosa is yellow and produces vulpinic acid, whilst Bryoria fremontii is dark brown and does not produce acid, in spite of consisting of genetically identical algae and fungi with the same pattern of gene expression.

Researchers at the University of Montana and Purdue University have carried out a study of 52 genera of lichens from all over the world, and concluded that lichens are actually a three way symbiosis, with a basidiomycete yeast, forming the third partner. The yeasts are embedded in the cortex, the outer layer of the lichen, and the variation in yeasts correlates with the variation in form of the lichens with the same fungus and alga.

One of the researchers, Catherine Aime, an expert in fungi at Purdue University, commented: “This discovery overturns our longstanding assumptions about the best-studied symbiotic relationship on the planet. These yeasts comprise a whole lineage that no one knew existed, and yet they are in a variety of lichens on every continent as a third symbiotic partner. This is an excellent example of how things can be hidden right under our eyes and why it is crucial that we keep studying the microbial world”.

ScienceDaily, Science

Editorial Comment: Everybody knew lichens were two, but now they are three! Amazing! Even the finding that three organisms are combined in a way that thus far we have not been able to get any of the components to combine on their own is amazing, especially when you add the fact that this enables them to live and function in many places including where other life forms find it very hard to survive.

Lichens are a good reminder that the living world really works by co-operation, not competition, and the more we study the living world the more examples of symbiosis, mutualism and other forms of co-operation we find. It is very hard to explain how this combination of organisms into a functional whole could have come about by struggle and random processes. However, it is exactly what you would expect given the world was created by a sovereign loving Creator who designed a very good world of fully functional life forms and ecosystems that worked right from the beginning, and who in His knowledge pre-designed them for a world that would degenerate until survival in extreme climates was a must.

This study also reminds us there is a lot we still have to learn about the living world, but we safely predict scientists will find out even more if they look at the world in the light of Biblical history, i.e. an original good, complex and mutually supportive creation, followed by loss of complexity and degeneration resulting death and struggle. 

Evidence News vol. 16, No. 18
19 October 2016
Creation Research Australia

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