Increasing the production of edible mushrooms can provide the world with a high-quality supply of food, but doing so would require improved knowledge of the immune system. In 2019, NWO awarded Robin Ohm a VIDI grant to find out how mushrooms defend themselves against pathogens. Ohm aims to answer the question: "How does the immune system of multi-cellular fungi with an entire underground network function?".
Increased production of edible mushrooms can provide worldwide food
VIDI study by Robin Ohm focuses on mushroom immune system
Ohm explains that the application of his research contributes to a sustainable food industry. “Mushrooms grow great on cheap, low-quality material. That makes them very interesting to the food industry. Unfortunately, pathogens like bacteria or other fungi often cause infections, and the harvest – and growers’ profits – simply melt away. Greater insight into the mushrooms’ immune system could make mushrooms less susceptible to pathogens in the future.”
In order to gain more insight into the mushrooms’ immune system, Ohm uses a model system: Schizophyllum commune. “That’s a species of mushrooms that achieves good results in the lab. Mushrooms have around 15,000 genes, and we can’t study them all in detail, so we need to use both biological- and bioinformatics knowledge. As a biologist, I use modern laboratory technologies to see which genes are more ‘activated’ in diseased mushrooms, both in our model system and in commercially viable species. We can then assume those types of genes are important for protecting against diseases. Once we know that, we can use our expertise in bioinformatics to narrow the number of candidate genes by looking at which genes are also present in other species of mushrooms. We can then go back to the lab to study the actual effect that the genes’ interactions have.”
The techniques that Ohm has developed within his ERC project are essential for the new VIDI project. Ohm will receive a VIDI grant of 800,000 euros, which will allow him to appoint two PhD students in his Fungal Genomics research team.