Unleashing the hidden potential of the anaerobic fungi (Neocallimastigomycota)


The microorganisms thriving in the ruminant’s digestive tract deliver the metabolic potential for degrading recalcitrant lignocellulose-rich organic matter and rendering it digestible. Amongst the microbiota thriving in the rumen, anaerobic fungi (AF) with the unpronounceable name Neocallimastigomycota host a complex array of enzymes that are especially adapted for degradation of lignocellulosic biomass like straw. In addition, their appressoria attach to the macromolecule structures and physically penetrate them, thus enhancing the enzymatic action.

Cultivation of these fungi has often ended in frustration for researchers, as the understanding of cultivation requirements is very poor. However, scientists see the great potential of these organisms for biotechnological use, in particular for the utilization of lignocellulosic residues (LCR) in closed loop recycling management. The Institute of Microbiology at the Innsbruck University has been studying Neocallimastigomycota for over six years and successfully established isolation and cultivation techniques. Only very few research groups around the globe possess the necessary know-how to work with this peculiar fungal group, however, considering the vast biotechnological application potential for this microorganisms, more and more groups jump on this research bandwagon. In this three-year project, that is planned with a EUR 1.2 Mio budget, a consortium from Austria (lead: Dr. Sabine Marie Podmirseg), Germany and Switzerland, all engaged in the harnessing of AF, is cooperating in close connection with research groups in the United Kingdom and in the Czech Republic. The European key-players in this research field are all pulling together.

The overarching aim of the proposed project that is being funded by the FWF with close to EUR 400,000 will be to remove existing methodological obstacles preventing the biotechnological utilization of anaerobic fungi. For that purpose, the consortium starts with the crucial basics, explores the cultivation requirements of Neocallimastigomycota, develops suitable culturing and detection methods and finally evaluates their biotechnological application for LCR disintegration.

The project will combine classical microbiological methods (microscopy, batch and continuous cultivation, enzymology) with molecular approaches (fluorescence in situ hybridization, quantitative PCR, direct RNA and next generation sequencing). It is expected to develop suitable protocols for the cultivation of anaerobic fungi and provide the basics for up-scaled production. The project’s goal is to enable researchers and the society to make use of the AF for energetic and material use of LCR.


Project partners:

Austria: (lead) Mag. Dr. Sabine Podmirseg, LFU Innsbruck;

Deutschland: (lead) Dr. Michael Lebuhn, LfL Freising;

Schweiz: (lead) Prof. Urs Baier; ZHAW Wädenswil; 

Großbritannien: Dr. Gareth Griffith, IBERS, Aberystwyth;

Tschechische Republik: Dr. Katerina Fliegeróva, IAPG, Prag;

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