Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers grow penicillin-producing fungi with new properties through sexual reproduction

Darkness, oxygen deprivation, and vitamin make fungus “crave sex”
Unlike we thought for 100 years: moulds are able to reproduce sexually

For over 100 years, it was assumed that the penicillin-producing mould fungus Penicillium chrysogenum only reproduced asexually through spores. An international research team led by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kück and Julia Böhm from the Chair of General and Molecular Botany at the Ruhr-Universität has now shown for the first time that the fungus also has a sexual cycle, i.e. two “genders”.

Scanning electron microscopic image of asexual conidiospores from the penicillin producer Penicillium chrysogenum
Image: Chair of General and Molecular Botany, RUB

Through sexual reproduction of P. chrysogenum, the researchers generated fungal strains with new biotechnologically relevant properties - such as high penicillin production without the contaminating chrysogenin. The team from Bochum, Göttingen, Nottingham (England), Kundl (Austria) and Sandoz GmbH reports in PNAS. The article will be published in this week’s Online Early Edition and was selected as a cover story.

Only penicillin producer

About 100 years ago, Alexander Fleming demonstrated the formation of penicillin in Penicillium chrysogenum. To date, there is no other known producer of the antibiotic penicillin, which has an annual global market value of about six billion Euros.

Combining genes and breeding offspring with new properties

Not only animals and plants, but also many microorganisms such as fungi and algae can reproduce sexually. The advantage: the progenies possess a combination of genes from both mating partners and thus have new properties. Sexual reproduction in fungi is, however, not the rule. Most reproduce via spores which, in the case of moulds, occur as white, green or black deposits on spoiled food. These spores only bear the genes of one parent fungus.

“Five years ago we already detected the existence of so-called sex genes in Penicillium chrysogenum“, says Prof. Kück. Now, the researchers have discovered specific environmental conditions in which the fungus actually reproduces sexually. The decisive thing was to breed fungal strains in the dark under oxygen deprivation conditions in a nutrient medium supplemented with the vitamin biotin. The offspring exhibited new properties, both at the molecular level, as well as in their phenotypes.

Results could be applicable to other fungi

Using so-called microarray analysis, the biologists also investigated the activity of all the approximately 12,000 genes of the mould fungus. The result: the sex genes control the activity of biologically relevant genes, for example those for penicillin production.

“We presume that the findings can also be applied to other fungi”, says Ulrich Kück, “such as Penicillium citrinum and Aspergillus terreus that produce cholesterol-lowering statins, or Penicillium brevicompactum and Tolypocladium inflatum, which produce immunosuppressives that are used in all organ transplantations”. The researchers conducted the work in the Christian Doppler Laboratory “Biotechnology of Fungi” at the Ruhr-Universität with funding from the Christian Doppler Society (Vienna).

Bibliographic record

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, PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1217943110

Further information

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kück, Chair of General and Molecular Botany, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, Germany, Tel. +49/234/32-28212, E-Mail:

Julia Böhm, MSc, Chair of General and Molecular Botany, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, Germany, Tel. +49/234/32-25656, E-Mail:

Editor: Dr. Julia Weiler

Dr. Josef König | idw
Further information:

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Unexpected information about Earth's climate history from Yellow River sediment

09.10.2015 | Earth Sciences

Single atom alloy platinum-copper catalysts cut costs, boost green technology

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

Indefatigable Hearing

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>