The zygomycete fungus Phycomyces blakesleeanus has been investigated for the variety and sensitivity of its responses to light, particularly the phototropism of its giant fruiting bodies, the sporangiophores. Other light responses investigated in detail are the regulation of sporangiophore development and the regulation of the biosynthesis of the pigment beta-carotene. In addition, the Phycomyces sporangiophore reacts to a variety of environmental stimuli, including gravity, touch, wind, and the presence of nearby objects by changing the speed and direction of growth.
The Phycomyces genome sequence will help to start a genomic approach that will complement the current research carried out with this organism. Moreover, the sequence of the Phycomyces genome will help to identify genes and proteins that could participate in the signal transduction pathways for responses to environmental cues. The identification of the full set of Phycomyces genes will allow the design of microarrays for whole-genome assays of gene expression to investigate the responses of Phycomyces to environmental signals. The sequence of the Phycomyces genome will significantly accelerate research into the molecular details of Phycomyces' precisely regulated responses.
Phycomyces has also served as a model for research on the regulation of the biosynthesis of the pigment beta-carotene in fungi. The production of beta-carotene from natural sources, including fungi, is being developed as a safe alternative to the use of chemically synthesized pigments by the food industry.
Nobel laureate Max Delbrück pioneered the use of Phycomyces as a model organism for sensory physiology after dropping out from phage research in the mid-fifities of the last century. The Phycomyces genome will help to understand the molecular basis of environmental sensing in this model fungus. In addition, the full description of a zygomycete genome will provide key information about the evolution of fungal genomes.