Category Archives: pezizomycota

Penicillium marneffei project

P.marneffeiWe’re excited that a Penicillium marneffei grant to Mat Fisher and collaborators has been funded by the Welcome Trust. It includes a collaboration with Bignell Lab at Imperial College, our lab, JCVI, and Univ of Melbourne. This project will explore functional and comparative genomics approaches to studying the fungus which primarily infects immune compromised individuals in south-east asia where it is found associated with bamboo rats

Scientists at Imperial College London have received almost £350 000 from the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical research charity, to study Penicillium marneffei, the only Penicillium fungus to cause serious disease in humans. The researchers aim to find out what makes this particular fungus pathogenic.

Read the rest of the release.

Invasion of not so tasty truffles.

(Truffle picture from

The BBC (link) has an interesting article about a  Chinese Black truffle being found as an invasive species in Italy. The Italian’s and European truffle aficionados are worried that the Chinese Black Truffle will outcompete the Perigord Black truffle, which is supposed to be very tasty and the second most expensive truffle by weight, behind only the Piedmont White Truffle.

The scientific journal article (link) the BBC cites is present in the new phytologist and was authored by a lab from the “Dipartimento di Biologia Vegetale dell’Università di Torino. Looks like the Chinese truffle species could be a good invasive species model and also economically important.

Truffles are interesting its amazing people would pay so much for a mushroom, sadly I can’t say if one tastes better than the other since I have not had the chance to try of the truffles mentioned above.

Trichoderma reesei genome paper published

TrichodermaThe Trichoderma reesei genome paper was recently published in Nature Biotechnology from Diego Martinez at LANL with collaborators at JGI, LBNL, and others. This fungus was chosen for sequencing because it was found on canvas tents eating the cotton material suggesting it may be a good candidate for degrading cellulose plant material as part of cellulosic ethanol or other biofuels production.  The fungus also has starring roles in industrial processes like making stonewashed jeans due to its prodigious cellulase production.

The most surprising findings from the paper include the fact that there are so few members of some of the enzyme families even though this fungus is able to generate enzymes with so much cellulase activity. The authors found that there is not a significantly larger number of glucoside hydrolases which is a collection of carbohydrate degrading enzymes great for making simple sugars out of complex ones. In fact, several plant pathogens compared (Fusarium graminearum and Magnaporthe grisea) and the sake fermenting Aspergillus oryzae all have more members of this family than does.  T. reesei has almost the least (36) copies of a cellulose binding domain (CBM) of any of the filamentous ascomycete fungi.  They used the CAZyme database (carbohydrate active enzymes) database which has done a fantastic job building up profiles of different enzymes involved in carhohydrate degradation binding, and modifications.

Whether T. reesei is really the best cellulose degrading fungus is definitely an open question.  That it works well in the industrial culture that it has been utilized in is important, but there may be other species of fungi with improved cellulase activity and who may in fact have many more copies of cellulases.  So it will be good to add other fungi to the mix with quantitative information about degradation to try and glean what are the most important combination of enzymes and activities.

One technical note.  The comparison of copy number differences employed in the paper is a simple enough Chi-Squared, work that I’ve done with Matt Hahn and others include a gene family size comparison approach that also taked into account phylogenetic distances and assumes a birth-death process of gene family size change.  It would be great to apply the copy number differences through this or other approaches that just evaluate gene trees for these domains to see where the differences are significant and if they can be polarized to a particular branch of the tree.

So will this genome sequence lead to cheaper, better biofuel production? Certainly it provides an important toolkit to start systematically testing individual cellulase enzymes. It’s hard to say how fast this will make an impact, but the work of JBEI and a host of other research groups and biotech companies are going to be able to systematically test out the utility of these individual enzymes.

There is also evolutionary work by other groups on the evolution of these Hypocreales fungi trying to better define when biotrophic and heterotrophic transitions occurred to sample fungi with different lifestyles that might have different cellulase enyzmes that may not have been observed. Defining the relationships of these fungi and when and how many times transitions to lifestyles occurred to choose the most diverse fungi may be an important part of discovering novel enzymes.

Also see

Martinez, D., Berka, R.M., Henrissat, B., Saloheimo, M., Arvas, M., Baker, S.E., Chapman, J., Chertkov, O., Coutinho, P.M., Cullen, D., Danchin, E.G., Grigoriev, I.V., Harris, P., Jackson, M., Kubicek, C.P., Han, C.S., Ho, I., Larrondo, L.F., de Leon, A.L., Magnuson, J.K., Merino, S., Misra, M., Nelson, B., Putnam, N., Robbertse, B., Salamov, A.A., Schmoll, M., Terry, A., Thayer, N., Westerholm-Parvinen, A., Schoch, C.L., Yao, J., Barbote, R., Nelson, M.A., Detter, C., Bruce, D., Kuske, C.R., Xie, G., Richardson, P., Rokhsar, D.S., Lucas, S.M., Rubin, E.M., Dunn-Coleman, N., Ward, M., Brettin, T.S. (2008). Genome sequencing and analysis of the biomass-degrading fungus Trichoderma reesei (syn. Hypocrea jecorina). Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/nbt1403

Podospora genome published

P.anserinaThe genome of Podospora anserina S mat+ strain was sequenced by Genoscope and CNRS and published recently in Genome Biology. The genome sequence data has been available for several years, but it is great to see a publication describing the findings.  The 10X genome assembly with ~10,000 genes provides an important dataset for comparisons among filamentous Sordariomycete fungi. The authors primarily focused on comparative genomics of Podospora to Neurospora crassa, the next closest model filamentous species.  Within the Sordariomycetes there are now a very interesting collection of closely related species which can be useful for applying synteny and phylogenomics approaches.

The analyses in the manuscript focused on these differences between Neurospora and Podospora identifying some key differences in carbon utilization contrasting the coprophillic (Podospora) and plant saprophyte (Neurospora).  There are several observations of gene family expansions in the Podospora genome which could be interpreted as additional enzyme capacity to break down carbon sources that are present in dung.

The genome of Neurospora has be shaped by the action of the genome defense mechanisms like RIP that has been on interpretation of the reduced number of large gene families and paucity of transposons. The authors report a surprising finding that in their analysis that despite sharing orthologs of genes that are involved in several genome defense, they in fact find fewer repetitive sequences in Podospora while it still fails to have good evidence of RIP.

Overall, these data suggest that P. anserina has experienced a fairly complex history of transposition and duplications, although it has not accumulated as many repeats as N. crassaP. anserina possesses all the orthologues of N. crassa factors necessary for gene silencing, including RIP, meiotic MSUD and also vegetative quelling, a post transcriptional gene silencing mechanism akin to RNA interference

I think this data and observations interleaves nicely with the work our group is exploring on evolution of genome of several Neurospora species which have different mating systems. The fact that the gene components that play a role in MSUD and a RIP are found in Podpospora but yet the degree of RIP and the lack of any observed meiotic silencing suggests some interesting occurrences on the Neurospora branch to be explored.  The potentially different degrees of RIP efficiency and types of mating systems (heterothallic and pseudohomothallic) among the Neurospora spp may also provide a link to understanding how RIP evolved and its role on N. crassa evolution.

Senescence in Podospora

Another aspect of Podopsora biology that isn’t touched on, is the use of the fungus as a model for senescence.  The fungus exhibits maternal senescence which involves targeted changes in the mitochondria that leads to cell death.  The evolutionary and molecular basis for this process has been of interest to many research groups and the genome sequence can provide an additional toolkit for identifying the factors involved in the apoptosis process in this filamentous fungi. Whether it will help find a real link for aging research in other eukaryotes remains to be seen, but it is a good model system for some aspects of how aging and damage to mtDNA are linked.

Espagne, E., Lespinet, O., Malagnac, F., Da Silva, C., Jaillon, O., Porcel, B.M., Couloux, A., Aury, J., et al (2008). The genome sequence of the model ascomycete fungus Podospora anserina. Genome Biology, 9(5), R77. DOI: 10.1186/gb-2008-9-5-r77

Deconstructing aflatoxin biosynthesis

A paper in Science from Jason Crawford and colleagues explores the function of polyketide synthetases (PKS) in the synthesis of the secondary metabolite and carcinogen aflatoxin. Previous work (nicely reviewed in the fungi by Nancy Keller and colleagues) has shown the the PKS genes have several domains. These domains include acyl carrier protein (ACP), transacylase (SAT), ketosynthase (KS), malonyl-CoA:ACP transacylase (MAT), “product template” PT, Aand thioesterase/Claisen cyclase (TE/CLC).  These domains make up PksA, but the specific role of each domain’s in synthesis steps has not been fully worked out. Understanding this process and the specificity of the chemical structures that are created can help in redesign of these enzymes for synthesis of new molecules and drugs.

Then authors cloning and combining the domains from a cDNA template of pksA [accession AY371490]  (from Aspergillus parasiticus) into various combinations and then evaluated the synthesized products via HPLC.  This deconstruction of a complicated protein and its domains is a great example of functionally mapping the role of each part of the enzyme and integrating with the biochemistry of the synthesized products.  The findings of this research also mapped a role for the PT product template domain which could suggest where modifications could be made to tweak the synthesized products by these enzymes.

Crawford, J.M., Thomas, P.M., Scheerer, J.R., Vagstad, A.L., Kelleher, N.L., Townsend, C.A. (2008). Deconstruction of Iterative Multidomain Polyketide Synthase Function. Science, 320(5873), 243-246. DOI: 10.1126/science.1154711

More RIP without sex?

In followup to the Aspergillus RIP paper discussion, Jo Anne posted in the comments that her paper published in FGB about RIP in another asexual species of fungi also found that evidence for the meiosis-specific process of Repeat Induced Point-mutations (RIP).

Continue reading More RIP without sex?

RIPing in an asexual fungus

ResearchBlogging.orgA.niger conidiophoreA paper in Current Genetics describes the discovery of Repeat Induced Polymorphism (RIP) in two Euriotiales fungi.  RIP has been extensively studied in Neurospora crassa and has been identified in other Sordariomycete fungi Magnaporthe, Fusiarium. This is not the first Aspergillus species to have RIP described as it was demonstrated in the biotech workhorse Aspergillus oryzae.  However, I think this study is the first to describe RIP in a putatively asexual fungus.  The evidence for RIP is only found in transposon sequences in the Aspergillus and Penicillium.  A really interesting aspect of this discovery is RIP is thought to only occur during sexual stage, but a sexual state has never been observed for these fungi.   Continue reading RIPing in an asexual fungus

Aspergillus comparative transcriptional profiling

Researchers from Technical University of Denmark published some interesting results from comparing expression across the very distinct Aspergillus species.

Kudos also goes to making it Open Access. I am posting a few key figures below the fold because I can! They grew the fungi in bioreactors fermenting glucose or xylose. After calibrating the growth curves they were able to sample the appropriate time points for comparison of gene expression across these three species. They found a set of genes commonly expressed.

Continue reading Aspergillus comparative transcriptional profiling

Phytopathogenic Fungi: what have we learned from genome sequences?

ResearchBlogging.orgA review in Plant Cell from Darren Soanes and colleagues summarizes some of the major findings about evolution of phytopathogenic fungi gleaned from genome sequencing highlighting 12 fungi and 2 oomycetes. By mapping evolution of genes identified as virulence factors as well as genes that appear to have similar patterns of diversification, we can hope to derive some principals about how phytopathogenic fungi have evolved from saprophyte ancestors.

They infer from phylogenies we’ve published (Fitzpatrick et al, James et al) that plant pathogenic capabilities have arisen at least 5 times in the fungi and at least 7 times in the eukaryotes. In addition they use data on gene duplication and loss in the ascomycete fungi (Wapinski et al) to infer there large numbers of losses and gains of genes have occurred in fungal lineages.

Continue reading Phytopathogenic Fungi: what have we learned from genome sequences?