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During the Westerdijk Anniversary Year the Utrecht University organizes lunchtime lectures, an interesting insight into an aspect of microbiology or Westerdijk, combined with culinary lunch bites. On May 22nd Pedro Crous will talk about the legacy of Johanna Westerdijk.

In 1904 Prof. Frits A.F.C. Went received permission from the International Botanical Society to initiate an international culture collection for microbes. The Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (now Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute) was founded shortly thereafter. In 1907, Johanna Westerdijk (23 years old at the time) became the first director of the institute.

The collection started to expand drastically; many strains were submitted by phytopathology students or international colleagues that Westerdijk approached herself. Over the past 117 years, the collection has grown into the world’s largest living fungal collection. But what is Westerdijk’s real legacy? Is it in today’s vast number of strains, or are there other more memorable milestones?

Culinary event
During this lunchtime lecture, chef Ruud Klapmuts will hold a culinary event outside the Westerdijk Institute (Uppsalalaan 8, USP De Uithof). On the spot he will prepare hot and cold fungi snacks, such as stir-fried mushrooms. From 11:00 till 12:00 hrs and from 13:00 till 13:30 hrs you are welcome to enjoy a variety of edible fungi.

Register via Westerdijk@uu.nl. Lunch will be provided.

UU-website

     
 
Dr. Huub van der Aa passed away. by Webmaster News 2017-05-10 13:38:45
 

On Sunday 7 May Dr.  Huub van der Aa passed away. Huub was a well-known mycologist and he published many articles on coelomycetous fungi. He was also a co-author of the book “A revision of the species described in Phyllosticta”. Huub was loved by all of us here at the Westerdijk Institute who had the privilege of knowing him. He always had hilarious stories to share about the old days, about Westerdijk, von Arx, and many, many more. We will all miss him, as mycology has lost another great spirit.

Huub’s funeral takes place Tuesday May 16.

     
 
Antibiotics Brigade (in Dutch) by Webmaster News 2017-04-19 15:24:13
 

Wat zijn antibiotica? Waarvoor slikken we het? Wat is antibioticaresistentie en hoe voorkom ik het? Museum Boerhaave toert dit jaar door heel Nederland met de Antibiotica Brigade en helpt je op weg met antwoorden op lastige vragen.

Antibiotica zijn sinds de ontdekking van penicilline door Alexander Fleming in 1928 hét geneesmiddel tegen bacteriële infectieziekten. Maar steeds meer bacteriën ontwikkelen resistentie tegen antibiotica. Dat betekent dat sommige infecties slecht, of in bepaalde gevallen helemaal niet meer kunnen worden behandel. Antibioticaresistentie vormt wereldwijd een gevaar voor de gezondheid. Want behandelingen en operaties die nu gewoon zijn, kunnen hierdoor in de toekomst extra gezondheidsrisico’s met zich mee brengen.

De rijdende tentoonstelling Antibiotica Brigade belicht antibiotica van alle kanten. Bekijk de ontwikkeling van antibiotica door een Virtual Reality-bril, scan je hand op resistente bacteriën en kijk door de microscoop van Antoni van Leeuwenhoek.

Locaties

Nieuwsgierig geworden? Bezoek de Antibiotica Brigade op de volgende dagen en locaties:

18 - 20 aprilUtrechtStadskantoor Utrecht
22 - 30 aprilUtrechtUniversiteitsmuseum Utrecht
20 - 21 meiEindhovenPhilips Museum
16 septemberLeidenNacht van Kunst & Kennis
07 oktoberBilthovenRIVM
28 oktoberLeidenLUMC
 

Foto: Hielco Kuipers

Foto: Hielco Kuipers

Foto: Hielco Kuipers

Foto: Hielco Kuipers
     
 
Dr Walter Gams passed away by Webmaster News 2017-05-10 13:34:13
 

On Sunday 9 April Prof.  dr Walter Gams passed away in his beloved Italy. Walter worked at CBS for the whole of his scientific career, and was widely seen internationally as the world expert on soil fungi; microfungi in particular. He still visited the institute two weeks ago to bring us to Phoma isolates he just cultured. We will all miss him, as mycology has lost a great spirit.

Walters funeral took place Saturday April 22.

Turning 80 in Thailand at IMC10

     
 
Meet the Professor (in Dutch) by Webmaster News 2017-04-07 11:39:39
 

In 2017 was het precies honderd jaar geleden dat Johanna Westerdijk als eerste vrouw in Nederland professor werd. Meet the Professor 2017 stond daarom in het teken van vrouwelijke professoren en het onderzoek van Johanna: schimmels!

Het koor in de Aula:

de schimmellespakketten worden lustig gebruikt, zie hier het schimmelonderzoek op de Parkschool filmpje waarin klas bezig is met het lespakket. Let op: dit filmpje hebben leerlingen van het ‘Parkschool Persbureau’ zelf gemaakt!:

En een geweldige reportage van Annetje Ottow op OBS Overvecht:

     
 
Applied mycology: researching fungal stress by Stories 2017-04-05 15:32:39
 

In addition to the plant and animal kingdoms, the taxonomic domain of Eukarya also distinguishes the fungi kingdom. Fungi occur everywhere in the natural world but aren’t as visible as plants or animals. You might see mushrooms in the woods, but the actual fungus comprises more than just this mushroom: unnoticed, it grows in the shape of thin threads in soil. Or on leaves in dark places. So even if fungi are rather inconspicuous, we encounter them all around us in our everyday lives. For instance, did you know that the fungus Aspergillus niger produces citric acid which is used in many foods in order to increase the shelf life of perishable food? Fungi will also make food taste better or sometimes even enhance a foodstuff’s edibility. Think of bread, beer, delicious blue-veined cheese and certain dry sausages.

But then again fungi can be very unpleasant if they colonize your bread or overripe lemon, or if moulds start to grow in your bathroom.

The Westerdijk Institute receives many questions from the general public. The food industry as well as the government want to prevent mould growth in the wrong places (for instance, the indoor climate of dwellings) and would like to know all about prevention.

Did you know that there are species of fungi that generate spores (reproductive cells) which survive temperatures of 80°C and above (e.g. during pasteurisation)? And did you know there are products that use fungi in order to suppress different species of harmful fungi? An example is salami, which is dipped in harmless fungi that researchers isolated and called Penicillium salami.

Fungi are often found in dwellings. If you notice moisture problems you will soon discover mouldy patches. Which types of fungi inhabit our homes? What circumstances do they like? Humid air? High, low or fluctuating temperatures? Many mycological researchers have made observations of fungal growth at specific temperatures or specific degrees of humidity. This is called growth in static conditions. In a cooperation with the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, the Westerdijk Institute conducts a research of fungi in temperature and humidity fluctuations. Such conditions are much more realistic and our researchers discover fungi which specifically thrive in these fluctuating circumstances.

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Lots of food is spoilt because of fungal decay and of course we would rather not have moulds in our homes. Human history abounds with attempts to slow down decay, for instance by drying food or by heating it (pasteurisation). Each time humans come up with a solution, another species of fungi pops up that is able to grow anyway. By learning more about fungi that clear these ‘hurdles’, we may devise new ways to preserve our food. Our research aims at discovering how fungi survive harsh conditions in our food and our homes. In other words: how does a fungus deal with stress. We humans like to throw obstacles at fungi such as antifungal paint or substances and methods that prolong our food’s shelf life. These fungi are really little heroes who continually find new, special weapons to defeat their adversaries.

The research group Applied and Industrial Mycology is supervised by Jos Houbraken and researches fungi in the food industry and in the indoor climate of dwellings

Photo: penicillium roqueforti

     
 
Fungal factory: the factory of the future by Stories 2017-04-05 15:31:10
 

Everybody knows the slogan: ‘Now with extra antioxidants!’ Both in food and in cosmetics, antioxidants are frequently used and consumed. But what exactly are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances which counter the natural process of oxidation. Oxidation is a reaction during which body cells are damaged by aggressive substances called free radicals. These free radicals are produced by smoking, sunbathing and certain inflammatory reactions, although a healthy metabolism may also produce free radicals. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals. Vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and minerals such as selenium and zinc are examples of antioxidants.

Many of these antioxidants naturally occur in food, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, red wine, tea and chocolate. These do not provide the antioxidants for cosmetics, however. Those antioxidants are manufactured but the chemical industry has a wish for more sustainability, just like many other industries. Take for instance ‘green chemistry’, in which the use and production of dangerous substances is minimised. Fungi might play an important role by substituting a fungal factory for a part of an actual chemical factory. These fungal factories would manufacture antioxidants in a natural way.

The Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute is searching for fungal factories that are able to produce antioxidants in a natural way. That’s not as easy as it sounds. When we come across a fungus which produces antioxidants, we first have to look for the enzymes responsible for this production. In addition, the enzyme must be active in certain circumstances (a specific pH value and temperature) and the antioxidants must be produced efficiently without any unintended by-products.

Eventually we expect fungal factories to be put to use for several chemical manufacturing processes. A fungal factory, therefore, is the sustainable factory of the future!

Under the supervision of Ronald de Vries, the potential of fungal factories is being researched by the Fungal Physiology Group of the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute. If you would like to know more about this group and its research, look here.

     
 
A glimpse into our treasury by Stories 2017-04-05 15:28:25
 

Did you know that the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute has an incredibly valuable treasury at its disposal? This treasury doesn’t contain money or diamonds but over 100,000 fungi!

And that’s not all: the collection continues to grow. Each year around 3,000 fungi are added, resulting in a steady increase of the number of fungi in the treasury. In addition, the fungi themselves continue to grow. The fact is, these fungi aren’t dead – far from it. They really are alive and kicking!

Taking care of all these fungi and keeping them alive requires a considerable amount of expertise. Imagine feeding 100,000 mouths, all with their own special diets. Take for instance oomcetes which are dependent on water at a certain time in their lives and therefore always need to grow in the proximity of water. Or fungi that only grow on other fungi. Quite a job, therefore, to maintain this treasury. However, the Westerdijk Institute uses clever methods to keep fungi alive without the need to feed them: we call this preservation.

The treasure is incredibly valuable and its value increases steadily. An estimated one million species of fungi haven’t been discovered yet, and there is a large number of known fungi about which little is known. Besides managing and increasing this treasury, the Westerdijk Institute researches the characteristics and possibilities of the treasury’s fungi.

Want to know more about the Institute’s treasury? Catch a glimpse here. If you’re interested in research into fungi, visit our research groups.

This storage tank is cooled with liquid nitrogen and may contain up to 12,000 fungi in tiny straws at a temperature of -180°C

     
   

cbs-directeur pedro crous : ‘we werken hard, maar we feesten nog harder’

‘Schimmelcollectie is een juweel’

Het Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures heet vanaf nu Westerdijk Institute. ‘We gaan ons richten op de positieve kant van schimmels’, zegt directeur Pedro Crous.

Download PDF

     
   

De schoonheid van schimmels

Van schimmel op je brood of tussen je tenen ga je walgen. Schimmels kunnen ook wondermooi zijn. En nuttig, als medicijn bijvoorbeeld.

Download PDF

EOS website

     
 
From oil drum to cornfield by Stories 2017-03-21 12:24:06
 

In these times of sustainability, manufacture should become more natural, sustainable and eco-friendly. There are, nevertheless, countless manufacture methods requiring chemical substances and generating large amounts of waste materials which are not reused.

The Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute contributes to sustainable development in manufacture, for instance by researching fungi that might be substitutes for chemical substances or researching whether fungi might assist in putting waste materials to a practical use.

A good example is the production of corn and other agricultural crops. We all know the component of corn which is used as food and cattlefeed, but a large portion of the left-over corn plant has little practical use. This plant matter mainly consists of long and unusable molecule chains and this is where fungi might play an important role.

Fungi are adept in decomposing plant material. They release substances – enzymes – to break down these unusable chains into separate molecules. The individual molecules that are now accessible can be put to use for all kinds of purposes.

In the case of corn production, waste material is now merely incinerated for its caloric value. Fungal enzymes, however, break down these materials into components which might be used as fuel for cargo ships, for example. Besides providing a useful purpose for waste materials of corn production, this also yields a more eco-friendly fuel for freighters which doesn’t require transportation to all parts of the world. Corn, as it happens, is grown all over the planet, which means that if we manage to find fungal enzymes capable of converting corn into fuel, corn waste may be degraded on the spot! In the near future, those unsightly mounds of discarded oil drums may be replaced by a pleasing landscape of beautiful cornfields.

This research is conducted (in an international collaboration) by the Fungal Physiology Group supervised by Ronald de Vries. If you would like to know more about this group and its research, look here.

     
 
Course Food and Indoor Mycology 2017 package by Webmaster Courses 2017-03-31 09:48:50
 
October 9-13 2017 Course Food and Indoor Mycology and Course Introduction to novel identification methods  Registration

Venue: Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, The Netherlands.
Price: € 1949,-

Two courses on different, but connected topics are given in this week: “Food and Indoor Mycology” (3 days) and “Introduction to novel identification methods of food- and indoor fungi” (2 days). This course in the identification and detection of food- and indoor fungi is unique in the world. It is packed with background information on several subjects, such as the recognition, detection, occurrence and impact of these fungi on food products and in human dwellings. After completion of both courses, you will also be up to date in detection and identification of food- and indoor fungi. We aim to teach broad audience including people that work in food and indoor related companies, (routine) laboratories, academia and research institutes who would like to exp and their knowledge on fungi occurring on food and in indoor environments.

The course “Food and Indoor Mycology” (9-11 October 2017) focusses on the classical detection and identification methods of food- and indoor fungi. A hands-on training will be taught in phenotype based identification of common food- and airborne contaminants. This 3-days course is supplemented with several in-depth lectures on specific topics.

In the course “Introduction to molecular identification methods of food- and indoor fungi” (12-13 October 2017) we aim to give insight in the recent development in this field. Besides in-depth presentation of various topics (see below), the course offers training in DNA based identification and sequence data interpretation and analysis

Instructors:
Dr. J. Houbraken and Dr. J. Dijksterhuis. Lectures will be presented by specialists from CBS and invited speakers.

Language of instruction:
The course is taught in English.

Location:
The course will take place at CBS-KNAW Fungal Biodiversity Centre, Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, The Netherlands.

Course fee:

Course Food and Indoor Mycology: € 1299,-
Mycology and Course Introduction to novel identification methods: € 999,-
Course Food and Indoor Mycology 2017 package: € 1949,-

Lunches and the course book “Food and Indoor Fungi” by Samson et al. are included in the course fee; accommodation excluded


     
 
Course Food and Indoor Mycology 2017 by Webmaster Courses 2017-03-31 09:49:56
 
October 9-11 2017 Registration

Venue: Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, The Netherlands.
Price: € 1299,-

Two courses on different, but connected topics are given in this week: “Food and Indoor Mycology” (3 days) and “Introduction to novel identification methods of food- and indoor fungi” (2 days). This course in the identification and detection of food- and indoor fungi is unique in the world. It is packed with background information on several subjects, such as the recognition, detection, occurrence and impact of these fungi on food products and in human dwellings. After completion of both courses, you will also be up to date in detection and identification of food- and indoor fungi. We aim to teach a broad audience including people that work in food and indoor related companies, (routine) laboratories, academia and research institutes who would like to expand their knowledge on fungi occurring on food and in indoor environments.

The course “Food and Indoor Mycology” (9-11 October 2017) focusses on the classical detection and identification methods of food- and indoor fungi. A hands-on training will be taught in phenotype based identification of common food- and airborne contaminants. This 3-days course is supplemented with several in-depth lectures on specific topics:

Topics:

  • Fungi and living crops
  • Spoilage of processed food
  • Fungi and mycotoxins
  • The indoor challenge, fungal indoor growth and health aspects
  • Detection of fungi in indoor environments and foods
  • The fungal spore in food mycology
  • Fungi as food

Molecular based detection and identification

“Hands-on” programme (3 afternoons):

Examples of more than 50 fungal and yeast species will be available for examination. Included genera are Mucor, Rhizopus, Absidia, Syncephalastrum, Neosartorya, Eurotium, Talaromyces, Chaetomium, Aspergillus, Penicillium, Paecilomyces, Talaromyces, Wallemia, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Botrytis, Alternaria, Scopulariopsis, Trichoderma, Geotrichum,

Instructors:
Dr. J. Houbraken and Dr. J. Dijksterhuis. Lectures will be presented by specialists from CBS and invited speakers.

Language of instruction:
The course is taught in English.

Location:
The course will take place at the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, The Netherland

Course fee:

Course Food and Indoor Mycology: € 1299,-
Mycology and Course Introduction to novel identification methods: € 999,-
Course Food and Indoor Mycology 2017 package: € 1949,-

Lunches and the course book “Food and Indoor Fungi” by Samson et al. are included in the course fee; accommodation excluded


     
 
Course Introduction to novel identification methods by Webmaster Courses 2017-03-31 09:49:45
 
Untitled Document
October 12-13 2017 Course Introduction to novel identification methods  Registration

Venue: Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, The Netherlands.
Price: € 999,-


Two courses on different, but connected topics are given in this week: “Food and Indoor Mycology” (3 days) and “Introduction to novel identification methods of food- and indoor fungi” (2 days). This course in the identification and detection of food- and indoor fungi is unique in the world. It is packed with background information on several subjects, such as the recognition, detection, occurrence and impact of these fungi on food products and in human dwellings. After completion of both courses, you will also be up to date in detection and identification of food- and indoor fungi. We aim to teach broad audience including people that work in food and indoor related companies, (routine) laboratories, academia and research institutes who would like to expand their knowledge on fungi occurring on food and in indoor environments.

In the course “Introduction to novel identification methods ” (12-13 October 2017) we aim to give insight in the recent development in this field. Besides in-depth presentation of various topics (see below), the course offers training in DNA based identification and sequence data interpretation and analysis.

Topics:

  • Trends and developments in food diagnostics
  • Next generation sequencing for food quality and safety
  • Fungal phylogeny
  • MALDI-TOF and other proteomics approaches
  • Databases
  • Bioinformatics

Instructors:
Dr. J. Houbraken and Dr. J. Dijksterhuis. Lectures will be presented by specialists from CBS and invited speakers.

Language of instruction:
The course is taught in English.

Location:
The course will take place at CBS-KNAW Fungal Biodiversity Centre, Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, The Netherlands.

Course fee:

Course Food and Indoor Mycology: € 1299,-
Mycology and Course Introduction to novel identification methods: € 999,-
Course Food and Indoor Mycology 2017 package: € 1949,-

Lunches and the course book “Food and Indoor Fungi” by Samson et al. are included in the course fee; accommodation excluded


     
   

Research starts with asking questions. ‘Why does this fungus live on trees, whereas that fungus doesn’t thrive there at all? Up to what temperature does this fungus survive?’ The Westerdijk Institute abounds with curious people who love questions like these.

Sometimes mycological research resembles a bit of sleuthing. Looking for clues and linking up facts. Modern researchers have become gene hunters. You might think of it as a fungal CSI. Finding a lead that will advance their quest. Like detectives they look for a trail that will lead to answers to pressing questions.

Take for instance the outbreak in Canada of a rare yeast species, Cryptococcus gattii (renamed as C. deuterogattii). This suspect is a real baddie. Initially C. gatti often causes pneumonia, but it may invade the bloodstream and end up in the brains where it may launch a fatal meningitis. In Canada this yeast managed to infect people with a healthy immune system. By researching the yeast’s DNA like veritable CSI detectives and comparing it to the DNA of other yeast strains, C. gattii proved to originate from Brazilian tropical forests, from where it spread all over the world years ago. Cryptococcus gatti seems to have a new preference for a Mediterranean climate. It’s remarkable that it thrives in locations that are so different from its natural, warm habitat. Our first-class yeast detectives are currently finding out why this yeast is so common in these environments right now.

Another example is the illness tinea nigra. It’s caused by a fungal infection that causes black spots on the palms of your hands. It starts with a tiny black spot but soon expands to large black patches. In the past, this disease was treated with very potent medication. ‘Detectives’ of the Westerdijk Institute have investigated this infection.

They discovered that the illness only occurs in people who have a tendency to sweat rather quickly and who have been on holiday in the Caribbean.

And guess what: the fungus which was deemed to be so dangerous turned out to be an innocent salt lover! The remedy? Simply wash your hands with Clearasil and the fungus is literally washed from your hands.

Case closed!

Fundamental research into the characteristics of fungi is conducted by, for instance, the research group Medical Mycology supervised by Sybren de Hoog and by the research group Yeast and Basidiomycete Research supervised by Teun Boekhout. Research concerns for example the potential use of fungi in case of resistance to antifungal agents or the mechanisms employed by yeasts to cause diseases.

     
 
Small fungi, big data by Stories 2017-03-21 08:33:00
 

You probably think that most scientist who research fungi wear a lab coat and use the microscope. And while that is absolutely true, another type of scientist has risen: the scientist that uses bioinformatics and data generated by others. They do not wear lab coats, but use powerful computers and software to analyse data.

Bioinformatics is a relatively new field that uses informatics, software and algorithms to discover new species, new functions, understand genomes and the expression of the latter and draw conclusions.

The Westerdijk Institute has a research group dedicated to building a software that is now used worldwide to store, manage, analyze and publish large biological databases.

You might think: ‘What data are they using’? Up until about 10 to 15 years ago it used to be visual data like photos and textual data like describing a fungus. Now the bulk of the data consists of physiological and DNA data.

The beauty of using software to analyse data is that we discover so much more and at a much faster pace. We are now able to compare data that used to take a lifetime. And now it’s available with a click of a mouse.

Take for instance the research that was done on thermoregulation. Thermoregulation is the mechanism that regulates our body temperature around 37°C. When humans are infected by pathogens they usually react by raising their body temperature by 1 to 5°C (fever) to fight microorganisms. We have demonstrated that each increase of 1°C of body temperature above 30°C induces a 6% decrease of the number of fungi able to grow. For a long time this used to be a theory or assumption (or as scientists put it: an hypothesis). With the help of big data it was possible to quantify the relation between the increase of body temperature and the reduction of the number of pathogens able to survive in the human body. Another research was done on bats, who were killed by a fungus during hibernation (when the body temperature of the bats drops). If the bats were forced out of hibernation and then allowed to go back to hibernation, the brief period that the temperature rose was enough to kill the fungus and no more bats where killed by the fungus during hibernation. Lucky for the bats and proving the hypothesis that thermoregulation plays in important role in the fight for pathogens.

The Westerdijk Institute is a front runner in the use of bioinformatics on fungi. We know that this is the future. Gathering and combining data and analysing huge amounts of data will take the research of fungi and the institute itself to the next level.

But do not forget: our biological resource centre of living fungi still is and always will be the jewel of our institute.

The research group Bioinformatics, led by Vincent Robert, is responsible for the data management of the culture collection and many other associated databases. This group focuses on the development of big data management and fast algorithms and software of genome and associated meta data.

     
   

Mycological research is really in its infancy. Although we know a lot, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Researchers at the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute unravel the mysteries of fungi.

Up until the 1990s this research mainly amounted to descriptions of fungi. The emergence of new methods, including DNA analysis, however, was the onset of a revolution in mycological research. In addition to describing fungi, researchers could now also understand them. Since specific genes represent specific characteristics, fungal behaviour in certain conditions has become predictable.

This is of major importance: currently more than 100,000 species of fungi have been identified. We assume that there are over one million of unknown species. Some fungi have a similar ‘exterior’ but DNA analysis may reveal widely dissimilar characteristics.

Research into the identification of specific fungi (diagnostics) is constantly developing. The next revolution in mycological research will certainly concern fungal proteins, which resemble fingerprints. In the foreseeable future, fungal proteins will underpin the identification of a species and its characteristics. And it will take just as much time as making a cup of coffee. At present this kind of identification takes several days of research.

Fundamental research into the characteristics of fungi is conducted by the research group Medical Mycology supervised by Sybren de Hoog. Its research concerns, for example, the use of fungi in case of resistance to antifungal agents.

     
   

Comparative analysis of Aspergillus species provides genus-wide view of fungal diversity

In the world of fungi, Aspergillus is an industrial superstar. Aspergillus niger, for example, has been used for decades to produce citric acid--a compound frequently added to foods and pharmaceuticals --through fermentation at an industrial scale. Other species in this genus play critical roles in biofuel production, and plant and human health. Since the majority of its 350 species have yet to be sequenced and analyzed, researchers are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding Aspergillus' full potential and the spectrum of useful compounds they may generate.

In a study published February 14, 2017 in the journal Genome Biology, an international team including researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, report sequencing the genomes of 10 novel Aspergillus species, more than doubling the number of Aspergillus species sequenced to date. The newly sequenced genomes were compared with the eight other sequenced Aspergillus species. With this first ever genus-wide view, the international consortium found that Aspergillus has a greater genomic and functional diversity than previously understood, broadening the range of potential applications for the fungi considered one of the most important workhorses in the biotechnology.

"Several Aspergillus species have already established status as cell factories for enzymes and metabolites. However, little is known about the diversity in the species at the genomic level and this paper demonstrates how diverse the species of this genus are," said study lead author Ronald de Vries of the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute in the Netherlands. "One can't assume that an Aspergillus species will have the same physiology as a better studied species of the genus."

The study, conducted through the DOE JGI's Community Science Program, also demonstrates the importance of evaluating biodiversity within a genus to understand how fungi can be greater utilized to solve a variety of problems. Sequencing a diverse set of Aspergillus genomes allows researchers to build a more comprehensive catalog of enzymes for biotechnological applications, added DOE JGI Fungal Genomics Program Head Igor Grigoriev, senior author of the paper. Those applications include harnessing Aspergillus to help protect crops and ward off agents that can cause diseases in plants.

Comparing the newly sequenced genomes to those already available, researchers found a huge variety of carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes) among the Aspergillus species, suggesting distinct strategies to break down plant biomass. CAZymes are responsible for breaking down plant cell walls, useful for industrially processing plants the DOE considers candidate bioenergy crops. The sugars that are part of these cell walls can't be accessed and fermented to make biofuels unless the walls are broken down by agents like CAZymes. "Each of these 10 genomes encodes for a unique composition of CAZymes--and the wider assortment helps formulate enzyme cocktails better suited for different types of plant biomass to efficiently convert them into biofuels," Grigoriev said. In addition to biofuels, CAZymes can also help facilitate the production of paper, textiles, food, feed and pharmaceuticals, according to de Vries.

The comparative analysis between the genomes also enabled researchers to uncover a high diversity of genes that: 1) allow the fungi to produce secondary metabolites, compounds that may be useful for applications such as crop protection; and 2) enable the fungi to tolerate stress. The knowledge gained in secondary metabolism and stress response will help to provide more insight in the mechanisms underlying these functions.

But despite the new insights gained, de Vries emphasizes that much still remains unknown about the full spectrum of what Aspergillus can do. "There is [still] much to learn and get from a better study [of Aspergillus]," he said. "The potential for applications within the genus has barely been touched." Grigoriev adds: "Encouraged by results of this study we now pursue a deeper exploration of the Aspergillus genus, sequencing the remaining 300 species, each carrying a unique composition genes, enzymes, and pathways"

de Vries Group

     
   

10 February 2017 we celebrated the fact that one hundred years ago the first female professor in the Netherlands was appointed: Johanna Westerdijk. She was professor in Phytopathology and also the director of the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS-KNAW Fungal Biodiversity Centre), the current Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute.

The University of Utrecht, the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, and the University of Amsterdam will celebrate this event in 2017. The series of festivities started on 10 February 2017. That day Minister Jet Bussemaker of the ministry of Education, Culture and Science opened the Westerdijk-year in the Academy building in Utrecht.

Amongst the speakers were Minister Jet Bussemaker, Prof. Dr. Pedro Crous of the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, Prof. Dr. Francine Govers of Wageningen University, Prof. Dr. Sandra Ponzanesi of the Dutch Network of Female Professors and Dr. ir. Melanie Peters of the Rathenau Institute.

The talks were followed by a lively discussion involving all speakers and the audience.

Programme UU website

     
 
Treasure trove of fungi | nwo (in Dutch) by News 2017-03-15 10:45:47
 

Schimmels zijn de werkpaarden van de chemie en de voedselindustrie. Maar welke soorten werken het hardst, en waarom doen ze dat? Samen met vier bedrijven zoekt STW- onderzoeker prof.dr. Ronald de Vries naar het antwoord

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