Studying fungal growth using automated image analysis and computer simulations
G Vidal-Diez de Ulzurrun, J M Baetens, J Van den Bulcke, B De Baets
Wooden materials are prone to fungal attack resulting in damage and economic losses. Therefore many efforts have been made to understand the degradation of wood and to avoid the adverse effect of fungi. Even though the extent of degradation of a material is inversely proportional to the extension of the fungi attacking it, most researchers focus mainly on the former, leaving the study of the latter to mycologists. This results in a lack of practical methods to track fungal growth at realistic scales needed to study their growth characteristics in detail. Therefore, we have developed a new method based on image analysis and graph theory which is able to track the evolution of a fungal network over time. The only inputs needed are times series of images of fungal networks. This method is able to automatically compute the most important topological measures of fungal growth, as such enabling to track and compare the growth of different species under different conditions. In addition, this method provides information about the behaviour of hyphae, thus also enabling the calibration of mathematical models. As a way to avoid the drawback of experiments, we have developed a model for fungal growth whose main parameters can be obtained from the image analysis method mentioned above. The model is very versatile being able to represent fungal growth in both two and three dimensions and the interactions between the fungus and different materials. It is a lattice-free spatially explicit model: space is represented explicitly as such resulting in a more realistic representation of the fungi. Therefore, this model provides a powerful tool for the study of fungal growth, addressing the limitations of current modelling approaches and laboratory experiments.