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About the project

The Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life (AFTOL) project is dedicated to significantly enhancing our understanding of the evolution of the Kingdom Fungi, which represents one of the major clades of life. There are roughly 80,000 described species of Fungi, but the actual diversity in the group has been estimated to be about 1.5 million species. A more robust understanding of the evolutionary history of the Fungi is necessary to expand our knowledge of the history of life on Earth and the evolution of ecosystems and to facilitate the creation of diagnostic tools that will promote the discovery of the many undescribed fungal species. AFTOL is in its second round of funding with a second 4-year project initiated September 2007.  


AFTOL-1 (DEB-0228725, DEB-0228657, DEB-0228668, DEB-0228671; 2002-2006) was based in five laboratories at four universities and developed broad datasets of molecular and non-molecular (e.g., morphological) characters across the Kingdom Fungi.  Molecular data sampling focused on six target loci and morphological data emphasized septal pore structure and nuclear division. The project provided training for eight postdocs, twelve graduate students, seventeen undergraduates and 26 visiting scientists; AFTOL-1 also included more than 100 collaborators from more than 20 countries.  Research from AFTOL resulted in 63 publications and more than 60 international, national and departmental presentations.  AFTOL-1 also worked with fungal systematists from around the world to develop a unified, phylogenetic higher classification system of the Fungi, a first in the history of fungal systematics. AFTOL-1 developed the first database to catalog fungal subcellular characters and character states and it created a number of phyloinformatic tools including mor (automated rDNA phylogenies of Fungi), WASABI (Web Accessible Sequence Analysis for Biological Inference), and Hal (an automated pipeline for phylogenomic analyses).


AFTOL-2 (DEB-0732993, DEB-0732550, DEB-0732968, DEB-0732984, DEB-0732671, DEB-0732599, DEB-0732503; 2007-2011) builds on the momentum and infrastructure of AFTOL-1, but is substantially different in its design, focus and objectives.  AFTOL-2 includes fourteen PIs and Co-PIs in ten laboratories at eight universities.  Results from AFTOL-1 allowed us to identify regions of the tree that were especially problematic and unresolved by a 6-gene sampling approach.  Findings from AFTOL-1 also produced new and exciting hypotheses about the evolution of the Fungi that required additional testing. Taxon sampling for AFTOL-2 is therefore focused on a set of approximately 200 taxa that directly relate to testing explicit hypotheses pertaining to deep nodes of the fungal tree of life.  For molecular sampling we are taking a phylogenomic approach and have identified a set of 74 single-copy to low-copy genes that are orthologous across the Kingdom Fungi.  Sampling morphological data continues to focus on subcellular characters associated with septal pores and nuclear division, but increased emphasis in also placed on hyphal tip organelles and the flagellar apparatus. AFTOL-2 continues to develop and refine our phyloinformatic tools with the goal of making these available to the broader systematics community.  AFTOL-2 also continues to train students and postdocs in fungal systematic and remains committed to serve the broader community of fungal biologists.  


AFTOL is funded by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.