These fungi are part of the genus Lentinula, which have evolved to decompose hardwoods on every continent besides Europe and Antarctica. Lentinula mushrooms are white rot fungi, belonging to an elite group of decomposers that can break down all of wood’s components — cellulose, hemicellulose, and the toughest molecule, lignin. Understanding Lentinula genomes and their evolution could provide strategies for converting plant waste into sugars for biofuel production.
As part of an international team, researchers at the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) helped sequence and analyze the genomes of four fungi of the genus Armillaria. Often called the humongous fungus, Armillaria form some of the planet’s largest living organisms. They are also among the most devastating fungal pathogens, capable of breaking down all of the components of a host plant’s cell walls.
Fungi, particularly those found in the digestive tracts of ruminant herbivores such as cattle, sheep, and goats, are very good at overcoming the resistance of plant cell walls to degradation—a major hurdle in the quest to produce sustainable fuels and chemicals from bioenergy feedstocks. Now, an international group of researchers has identified protein scaffolds in anaerobic gut fungi that provide docking sites for various enzymes, keeping them in place so that they can work together more effectively. As reported in the May 26 issue of Nature Microbiology, the structures are analogous to cellulosome complexes in anerobic bacteria, but this is the first time they have been found in fungi.