Biofuels

Published on August 11th, 2009 | by Bryan Nelson

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Scientists Force Fungus to Have Sex to Create Biofuel

August 11th, 2009 by  

Fungus

Austrian scientists are putting the ‘fun’ in ‘fungus’ by forcing organisms which are usually asexual to have sex instead.

The hope is that the fungus would then be easier to breed, which would allow researchers to create organisms that are more efficient at degrading cellulose for the purpose of making biofuel.

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Originally discovered in the Solomon Islands during World War II eating away at the canvas and garments of the U.S. Army, scientists have long known that the soil fungus Trichoderma reesei was particularly good at converting cellulose– a major component of plant biomass– into glucose. But until now it has been difficult for researchers to improve the fungus because it was believed to be asexual.

Due to the fact that sexual organisms exchange and mix their genetic material when they breed, their traits can be more easily manipulated artificially. Under the assumption that Trichoderma reesei was asexual, scientists looking to improve the fungus were instead limited to techniques like dosing the fungus with radiation or chemicals in order to alter its genetic profile. But that process only created random or unpredictable mutations.

But for the first time since its discovery 50 years ago, scientists can now make the fungus have sex.

Past studies have shown that Trichoderma reesei is genetically identical to another species of fungus, Hypocrea jecorina, which it so happens is capable of sexual reproduction. The primary difference between the two organisms was that Hypocrea jecorina seemed capable of assuming both the male and female roles, whereas Trichoderma reesei seemed only capable of assuming the male role.

So scientists got a novel idea: Why not breed the male-oriented Trichoderma with a female-oriented Hypocrea? The result was a successful mating– the Trichoderma lured into having sex could now be artificially selected for their advantageous genetic traits.

The findings could have largescale ramifications. Researchers want to employ the organisms to make use of the otherwise useless cellulose in sawdust, weeds and other plant scrap to make biofuel. Thus, the primary benefit of fungus sex could be to turn bush into biofuel. But the newly sexualized fungus can also help farmers. Since Trichoderma includes species that help plants by killing harmful fungi, they can be put to use protecting crops we use for food.

Source: LiveScience

Image Credit: V. Seidl, Vienna University of Technology


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About the Author

has been making up for lost time since finishing his graduate degree in Philosophy by traveling and working to change the world. He has worked with groups like The Sierra Club, Environment America & U.S. PIRG, Environment Oregon & OSPIRG, and Progressive Future on local and national political campaigns. His environmental journalism can be found throughout the web, which also includes regular contributions to MNN.com. Between adventure and activism, he currently can be found doing freelance writing from his home in Hawaii.



  • Florian Schmid

    Wait until Peta hears about this…. It should be interesting to say the least.

  • Phil E. Drifter

    We don’t need this, we just need to legalize industrial hemp. Both Henry Ford and Rudolph Diesel designed cars that ran on hemp oil. See hempcar.org

  • Phil E. Drifter

    We don’t need this, we just need to legalize industrial hemp. Both Henry Ford and Rudolph Diesel designed cars that ran on hemp oil. See hempcar.org

  • This is the first time I have ever heard of fungal rape.

  • This is the first time I have ever heard of fungal rape.

  • Television Spy

    How deliciously perverted.

  • Television Spy

    How deliciously perverted.

  • Hyperkinetic

    Only a complete *IDIOT* can read a science article about biofuel producing fugus, and come away vomiting partisan lies.

  • Hyperkinetic

    Only a complete *IDIOT* can read a science article about biofuel producing fugus, and come away vomiting partisan lies.

  • I think its funny that the word “sex” was used when I don’t think it really applies to this. I think it would have been more appropriate to use “reproduce”. Anyway, its great what they’ve discovered. hopefully we can all reap the benefits of it soon πŸ™‚

  • I think its funny that the word “sex” was used when I don’t think it really applies to this. I think it would have been more appropriate to use “reproduce”. Anyway, its great what they’ve discovered. hopefully we can all reap the benefits of it soon πŸ™‚

  • Patrick

    “to turn bush into biofuel”, let’s see if it works out better than the president thing.

  • Patrick

    “to turn bush into biofuel”, let’s see if it works out better than the president thing.

  • poor fungus

  • poor fungus

  • Florian Schmid

    Wait until Peta hears about this…. It should be interesting to say the least.

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