Fungus study could make biofuels

Closer examination of a dry rot fungus could hold the key to producing robust buildings and potent fuels of the future, thanks to an international project led by Swansea University

Dr Dan Eastwood Headed by Swansea University’s Dr Dan Eastwood (pictured) in collaboration with the USA Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI), the project is uniting 47 experts from 21 laboratories across 10 countries.

Dry rot fungus, Serpula lacrymans, is known to be devastating to timber and buildings.  Almost never seen outside the built environment, its global spread has been associated with the movement of man in recent history.

Dr Dan Eastwood

A manuscript authored by Dr Eastwood and published online in the globally esteemed research journal Science, examines how the fungus attacks wood.  It proposes novel chemical-based mechanisms that the fungus uses to penetrate wood, before opening the structure for enzymes to break it down.

The manuscript informs part of the USA Department of Energy Fungal Genomes programme, which aims to unlock the genetic code of the planet’s vital wood-decomposing organisms.  Revealing how nature converts wastes into sugars promises to support the development of next-generation biofuels.

Dr Dan Eastwood, who is based in the University’s College of Science, commented: “Sequencing this dry rot fungus could have significant and wide-reaching implications.  These might include novel ways of breaking down plant wastes for biofuels, or saving buildings by targeting the processes discovered to be important in wood decay: that of iron availability or the secondary metabolism.”

Dr Dan Eastwood

A recent appointment at the Biocontrol and Natural Products Group of Swansea University, headed by Professor Tariq Butt, Dr Eastwood hopes to build on a growing international reputation in genomics by investigating how fungi might be used to control insect pests such as mosquitoes.

To view Dr Eastwood’s manuscript, entitled “The plant cell wall decomposing machinery underlies the functional diversity of forest fungi”, visit Science at http://www.sciencemag.org/.

This news item has been posted by Bethan Evans, Swansea University Public Relations Office, Tel: 01792 295049, or email: b.w.evans@swansea.ac.uk