Fungal genetics can help develop new biotechnology

April 21, 2023

(Nanowerk News) As an important pillar of the Earth’s ecological system, mushrooms have long been used for better human life. While these organisms are still very poorly studied, a new review paper suggests that their unique genomes can be used to make progress in the biotech industry.

“The great thing about mushrooms is that they fill so many niches,” said Mitchell Roth, lead author of the review and assistant professor of plant pathology at The Ohio State University. “They can be found everywhere, and often you will find fungi that have adapted to survive in an unpredictable environment.”

Recently, scientists have made incredible inroads in the field, and thanks to HBO’s popular adaptation of The Last of Us, mushrooms are finally getting the recognition they deserve, Roth said. “There is so much potential in mushroom biotechnology that we haven’t exploited,” he said. “We’ve only just scratched the surface of fungal biotechnology, so this paper is a bit of a call to action.”

Advances in fungi have led to breakthroughs in a variety of industrial and household settings, especially in medicine through the development of new drugs (such as penicillin or lovastatin) as biological controls against pathogens, and in society when used to ferment certain foods and beverages. drink.

Papers, published in journals Frontiers in Fungal Biology (“Mushroom biotechnology: From yesterday to tomorrow”). highlighting how further research in the field of mycology – the study of fungi – can assist in the discovery and application of many emerging biotechnologies.

For example, the interweaving of biotech and mycology can stimulate the development of sustainable bioinformatics and biomaterials tools, such as machine learning algorithms for predicting mycological patterns, or the creation of mushroom batteries. In addition, because fungi are so common, this promising biotechnology is likely to be produced on a large scale.

But Roth, who works on the Wooster campus of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, focuses on how some fungi become pathogens and spread disease. He said that many of these potential leaps were only possible because of advances in scientists’ ability to sequence their DNA.

“By comparing the genomes of different fungi, you can really begin to understand what genes are involved in what processes,” he said. “Now you can go to the lab, study it, change some of the genes around, and make the fungus better at doing a certain task.”

But that doesn’t mean researchers won’t face challenges in their quest to develop uses for mushrooms. Due to the varying sizes of fungal genomes and their repeating genetic sequences, the study notes that it is difficult to identify and study them in their entirety. It was only because of the emergence of long read sequencing technologies such as Nanopore and PacBio, which now allow sequencing of longer DNA fragments, that fungal genetics research has become so extensive, Roth said.

However, while the ability to manipulate fungal genomes would be beneficial to a number of tech industries, such advances would not be possible without a great deal of time, funding and technological support.

“Scientists can have all these ideas and curiosity about fungi and want to study them further, but it’s very challenging and very expensive,” said Roth. “And unfortunately, people don’t always realize what we can do with them.”

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