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Taming the hairy mushroom



A group of six small fermentors allows researchers to grow quantities of fungi under the same conditions or to test multiple parameters simultaneously, vastly increasing the speed of conducting fungal experiments.

Fungi (yeasts, molds and mushrooms) have gotten a bad rap over the years. They have been blamed for infecting food crops and represent some of the most universal and costly pathogens known to manóboth of which overshadow the important contributions fungi make, such as providing critical agricultural nutrients and compounds for antibiotics.

Today, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed the technology for truly harnessing the potential of fungi in our world. Fungi, plants and animals represent the three non-bacteria phylogenetic kingdoms. Within the approximately 250,000 different species of fungi, about 75% are ascomycetes (approximately 90% of which are filamentous fungi, the remainder being yeasts) and 25% are basidiomycetes (commonly known as mushrooms). As a group, the fungi have an enormous impact on the United States and world economies. Yeast is used extensively in the baking and brewing industries, mushrooms are consumed as food all over the world, and filamentous (hairy) fungi are used for production of foodstuff and medicines and industrial production of enzymes and chemicals. Filamentous fungi grow as long, multi-celled strands or filaments, and these filaments can combine to form larger masses like mushrooms. They are largely responsible for recycling biomass in nature and are the source for many important compounds, including organic acids, antibiotics and other therapeutics. Biomass is the largest renewable energy source in the United States and provides the only renewable alternative for liquid transportation fuel.

Wood is still the largest biomass energy resource today, but other sources, such as food crops, residues from agriculture and forestry and even the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes, are quickly gaining momentum. By combining traditional bioprocess research technologies with cutting-edge technologies such as molecular genetics, genomics and proteomics, scientists have developed new biomass processes using the filamentous fungi.

With state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, the PNNL fungal biotechnology research team applies established methods to evaluate and manipulate parameters to create novel fermentation processes using filamentous fungi to ensure that lab-developed techniques are relevant to industrial processes. This integrated capability is essential for developing the novel bioprocessing approaches necessary for efficiently converting biomass into industrial and energy products. Scientists use a variety of analytical instruments to understand the fungal system and determine products and by-products under different scenarios. A proteomics workstation rapidly identifies proteins critical to the efficient function of a given organism within a bioprocess. Multi-vessel fermentors and capillary electrophoresis equipment provide the fermentation and analytical capability critical for determining and creating the most efficient bioprocesses.

The research being conducted by PNNL scientists may dramatically enhance the production of valuable molecules and materials, having a tremendous impact on industry, medicine, agriculture and basic science. Because of this potential impact, a Fungal Biotechnology Review Board has been formed as an opportunity for industry to become involved in developing technologies relevant to their business. Members of the Fungal Biotechnology Review Board appreciate the access to world-class instrumentation and leading scientists in emerging and established scientific fields.

Together, PNNL and industry are taming the hairy mushroomóthey are shaping the next generation of consumer products, medicines and biomass energy. Through better understanding, control and productivity, researchers are actively expanding the use of filamentous fungi.

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