Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Wood's 'noble rot' fungus genetically decoded

Nature Biotechnology publishes the complete genome of Empa's 'violin fungus'

An international team including Empa researcher Francis Schwarze has sequenced the genome of the common split gill mushroom, Schizophyllum commune, a widely distributed fungus which grows on and decomposes wood.

The genome, containing some 13,000 genes, has recently been published in Nature Biotechnology. The new data allows scientists a view of the mushroom's unique enzyme-based digestive apparatus which gives it the ability to attack and degrade wood, causing white rot. It is this ability which Schwarze, together with other colleagues, has exploited to improve the tonal qualities of wood used to make violins.

Fungi are the ideal recycling machines – they decompose dead organic material and convert it into nutritious humus, and together with bacteria they are nature's most important detritivores. During the course of their evolution they have developed special digestive enzymes with which they are able to decompose lignin and other complex substances in woody plants, an ability which is almost unique in nature. However, many species of fungi also attack living wood, thereby causing significant economic damage to wood related industries.

That fungi not only cause damage through their ability to decompose certain constituent materials of wood but can actually improve specific properties of wood has already been shown by Empa's Francis Schwarze. In his «Stradivarius Project» he has used wood-attacking fungi such as the (now genetically decoded) S. commune to improve the tonal qualities of spruce or maple used to make violins. In 2006 Schwarze submitted a patent application covering this process, and last September a biotech violin made with wood treated with fungi was judged superior to a genuine Stradivarius in a blind test.

A real expert at recycling carbohydrates

Schwarze has high hopes for the now completely deciphered genome of "his" fungus. "The genome sequence provides us with essential information on the lignolytic – that is, wood decomposing – enzymes. This knowledge will allow us to genetically modify the wild strain in order to optimize and control very specific decomposition processes." The S. commune genome ought to be a rich source of information, since according to genetic analysis the split gill mushroom possesses the most comprehensive enzyme-based digestive apparatus of all standing fungi (Basidiomycota). The enzymes are used to digest polysaccharides (carbohydrates and long-chain sugars) and to decompose lignin in wood, an ability which is unique, as far as is currently known. According to Schwarze this wide range of enzymatic activity explains why S. commune is so widespread; the fungus can nourish itself on practically anything!

This relatively new field, which Schwarze calls «Fungal Biotechnology», provides a means of improving the process of impregnating spruce and pine wood – neither of which are particularly long-lasting or hard-wearing – with protective and finishing agents. Schwarze is convinced that "…this represents an enormous commercial potential, above all in Switzerland, where more than 60% of the forests are spruce and pine." Another possible application is improving the efficiency of methods for the production of biogenic fuels based on woody biomass.

In addition, the genetic sequence is expected to supply important information on the development of the fruiting body of the fungus and how this process can be optimized, for example in the cultivation of edible mushrooms. Considering that some 2.5 million tonnes of edible fungi are produced every year, this could well prove to be very profitable know-how.

Literature reference

«Genome Sequence of the model mushroom Schizophyllum commune», Robin A. Ohm et al., Nature Biotechnology, published online on 11th July 2010 (DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1643); Abstract at

Dr. Francis W.M.R. Schwarze | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>