Microbiology assistant professor Noha Youssef joined the OSU microbiology team in 2007. Since then she has conducted many research projects for the department and is currently studying the anaerobic gut fungi (AGF), a group of microorganisms that reside in the rumen, hindgut and feces of ruminant and non-ruminant herbivorous mammals and reptilian herbivores. AGF belong to a distinct phylum lineage (Neocallimastigomycota) and play an important role in plant biomass degradation in many herbivores. AGF also represent a promising platform for biofuel production from lignocellulosic substrates. The taxonomic position of the Neocallimastigomycota within the fungal tree of life, their inter-genus relationship and their evolutionary history has long been disputed.

Youssef’s research group has isolated 140 AGF strains that represent the largest collection of AGF ever assembled. Through a recent NSF grant, the group has sequenced genomes and transcriptomes from representatives of eight AGF genera and are currently using phylogenetic analysis to resolve the diversification patterns of various AGF genera. Youssef is researching patterns, determinants and frequency of horizontal gene transfer in the AGF with the hypothesis that sequestration of the Neocallimastigomycota in the herbivore’s gut was conducive to the broad adoption of HGT as a relatively faster adaptive evolutionary strategy in this lineage.