26 September 2016

Research vital for insight into their functional repertoire

TU Delft and Utrecht University expose new ‘layer’ of fungi

In order to optimally utilise fungi, and to fight them when necessary, we require greater insight into the functions that they can perform. Researchers at TU Delft and Utrecht University have exposed a new layer of functional complexity in fungi. They published their findings in the Friday, 23 September issue of Nature Scientific Reports.

“Fungi brew our beer and produce important antibiotics”, explains Prof. Marcel Reinders from TU Delft’s Delft Bioinformatics Lab. “You can also use them to make materials for things like insulation, and in the future perhaps even clothing. They produce bioethanol, and we even eat them in the form of mushrooms. Since they recycle organic material, they are also vital for healthy soil for crops. However, as pathogens they present a threat to our health, and as such they present a danger to food supplies and food safety. In order to optimally utilise or combat fungi in all of these different environments, we need a full insight into their functional repertoire.”

Alternative splicing

To that end, Reinders and his colleague Prof. Han Wösten from Utrecht University began a research project into the products of alternative splicing in fungi. Alternative splicing is a process in the cell in which one gene can produce two different proteins, each with its own function. This increases the complexity and functionality of the genome.

Almost no research

“Deviant alternative splicing, or mutations in the products of alternative splicing, have been tied to cancer, autism and serious development disorders, both in mice and in humans. But despite its major consequences for mammals, scientists have performed almost no research on alternative splicing in fungi”, according to Reinders.

Our research has uncovered a heretofore unknown, but expansive repertoire of functional flexibility that a fungus like Schizophyllum commune possesses.

Thousands of extra products

The researchers used Schizophyllum commune as a model for their study of the functional consequences of the products of alternative splicing in fungi. This gave them evidence indicating the presence of thousands of extra products - more than any other fungus studied. These alternative products may function as important regulators for the processing of nutrients.

New possibilities

Utrecht University Prof. Han Wösten: “Our research has uncovered a heretofore unknown, but expansive repertoire of functional flexibility that a fungus like Schizophyllum commune possesses. This presents us with new opportunities for the use of fungi in biotechnology.”

This research was conducted as part of the Push the White Button project financed by technology foundation STW.

Publication

'Schizophyllum commune has an extensive and functional alternative splicing repertoire'
Nature Scientific Reports, 23 september 2016