The poisonous mushroom Galerina marginata colonised Antarctica about two million years ago from northern Europe or America

Specimen of Galerina marginata mushroom, growing among the mosses and the Antarc
Specimen of Galerina marginata mushroom, growing among the mosses and the Antarctic hair grass, at Punta Hannah (Antártida). Photo: Asunción de los Ríos.

The poisonous mushroom Galerina marginata colonised Antarctica about two million years ago from northern Europe or America

A research team including Isaac Garrido, from the University of Valencia (UV), and in which the National Museum of Natural Sciences of the Spanish National research Council (CSIC) and the University of Minnesota also participate, concludes that poisonous galerina (Galerina marginata), a mushroom present in the Iberian Peninsula and which can cause fatal poisoning, arrived in Antarctica from the Pleistocene, probably from the northern hemisphere (Europe and North America). The work, published in the journal Antarctic Science , is based on the study of genetic data from the DNA sequencing of this mushroom, which has been compared with a global database of genetic sequences of this Galerina and other nearby species.

Asunción de los Ríos, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural Sciences, collected samples of this mushroom near the Juan Carlos I research base in Antarctica. "By sequencing a small portion of the DNA, we were able to compare the Antarctic samples with those of others around Galerina around the world and, interestingly, we saw that their closest relatives are in northern Europe and North America", emphasises Isaac Garrido, researcher in the Department of Botany and Geology of the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

The research team chronologically dated all the genetic lineages, both the Antarctic and those from other areas of the world, with which they found out that the Antarctic lineage, relative to those in the northern hemisphere, originated in the Pleistocene, approximately 2 years ago millions of years According to De los Ríos, "with a high probability, an ancestor of the Antarctic poisonous galerina, coming from the north, colonised the continent at this time and since then it has been growing and reproducing in the coastal vegetation covers", he explains.

This is one of the first phylogeographic studies to focus on Antarctic fungi that produce mushrooms. The methodological approach has made it possible to establish a time frame for the origin of the Antarctic populations of the Galerina marginata mushroom, the same one that has been inferred in other studies for the origin of the two only Antarctic plants with flowers, the Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and the Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis), as well as for various mosses and lichens.

A few dozen mushrooms are known in Antarctica. This figure contrasts with what is known in the Iberian Peninsula or the Valencian Community, where there are catalogued thousands of species of fungi that form mushrooms.

This research is part of projects CTM2017-84441-R and PID2019-105469RB-C22, of the Ministry of Science, and has been possible thanks to the support of the staff of the Marine Technology Unit (UTM) of the CSIC.

Article : Garrido-Benavent, I., Blanchette, R., & De Los Ríos, A. (2023). Deadly mushrooms of the genus Galerina found in Antarctica colonized the continent as early as the Pleistocene. Antarctic Science, 1-14. doi: 10.1017/S0954102023000196