Those who work with Neurospora have chosen the organism for a variety of reasons.
B. O. Dodge, who described the sexual phase in 1927 and who pioneered analysis of the Neurospora life cycle,
was so impressed by its advantages for genetic work that he tried to persuade T. H. Morgan and his
Drosophila group to adopt the organism. Although not persuaded, Morgan encouraged a graduate student, Carl
Lindegren, to explore the potentialities of Neurospora. Ten years later, knowledge of Dodge's and Lindegren's
work led Beadle and Tatum to adopt Neurospora in their search for nutritional mutants, with the result
that Neurospora gained wide recognition and became the fungal counterpart of Drosophila. Their 1941
paper "Control of Biochemical Reactions in Neurospora" broke down the barriers that had separated biochemistry
and genetics. The Neurospora work went on to establish the similarity of genetic mechanisms in fungi to those
in Drosophila, maize, and other "higher" eukaryotes. It also inspired genetic studies of other microorganisms –
Escherichia coli, Chlamydomonas, Aspergillus, Sordaria, Ustilago,
Saccharomyces, Schizosaccharomyces, Coprinus,
Podospora, Ascobolus, Schizophyllum, Ophiostoma, Cochliobolus, Magnaporthe, and others.
Neurospora is not only phylogenetically distinct from Saccharomyces,
but also more complex in both structure and life cycle.
More than half the expressed genes identified thus far in Neurospora crassa have no
recognizable homolog in the yeast genome. Although E. coli and Saccharomyces have become the workhorses
of genetics and molecular biology, Neurospora remains the preferred model for filamentous fungi and the organism
of choice for numerous problems that cannot be investigated effectively using bacteria or yeast.
A combination of features make Neurospora ideal for studying circadian rhythms, vegetative
incompatibility, mitochondria and mitochondrial plasmids, and nuclear trafficking in the common cytoplasm of a heterokaryon.
Meiosis and ascospore differentiation occur without cell division within a single giant cell, the ascus, where the
morphology and precisely programmed movements of chromosomes, nuclei, and organelles can be observed effectively with the
light microscope. Natural populations are readily sampled.
In the six decades since Beadle and Tatum, Neurospora workers have accumulated a wealth of biological
and genetic information. Correspondingly rich resources have become available for research. Genetically characterized
wild-type and mutant strains and strains from worldwide natural populations can be obtained from a stock center.
Genomic and cDNA libraries, clone banks, and individual cloned genes are available. Physical mapping and genome sequencing
are in progress.
In 1982, information on all known chromosomal genes was brought together by Perkins, Radford, Newmeyer, and
Björkman for publication in Microbiological Reviews in a summary paper popularly known as the "compendium."
The present volume is its successor.