The scientists from The University of Nottingham, Ruhr-University Bochum, The University of Göttingen, and Sandoz GmbH have announced a major breakthrough in our understanding of the sex life of the fungus P. chrysogenum. Their research looks sets to lead to the introduction of new and more effective strains of the world’s first antibiotic agent and has been published online in the leading academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS).
Penicillium chrysogenum is a filamentous fungus of major medical and historical importance. It is the original and present-day industrial source of the antibiotic penicillin. For over 100 years the fungus has been thought to be asexual, but the researchers have discovered a method to entice the fungus into sexual reproduction. They’ve demonstrated that sexual crosses can be used to develop new strains with improved industrial characteristics.
Dr Paul Dyer, an expert in the sexual development and genetics of filamentous fungi in the School of Biology at Nottingham, said: “We now have a valuable tool for creating new strains of P. chrysogenum with increased penicillin production. This will make it cheaper to produce penicillin, as using more efficient strains will lower production costs.
Inducing sex in celibate fungi
Fungi are used to produce many important pharmaceutical products including statins and antibiotics, and most species involved have long been considered to be asexual. But the present findings suggest that sexual reproduction could be triggered in other supposedly asexual fungi if the mating-type genes and correct growth conditions can be identified.
J. Böhm, B. Hoff, C.M. O’Gorman, S. Wolfers, V. Klix, D. Binger, I. Zadra, H. Kürnsteiner, S. Pöggeler, P.S. Dyer, U. Kück (2013). Sexual reproduction and mating-type–mediated strain development in the penicillin-producing fungus Penicillium chrysogenum. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1217943110.
Image courtesy of ‘the Department of General and Molecular Botany, Ruhr-University Bochum.
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