Researchers from Oregon State University have discovered a gene in the fungal cereal pathogen Fusarium graminearum that suppresses the expression of over 2,000 other genes within the organism. The discovery has the potential to open up research on thousands of novel fungal compounds – exciting news in the ongoing search for new antibiotics, as fungi have historically been an integral part of antibiotic discoveries; most famously penicillin, derived from the fungi genus Penicillium. Traditional methods, usually involving changes to the environment in which the fungus grows, are increasingly becoming exhausted for new research opportunities.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS Genetics and supported by the National Institute of Health and the American Cancer Society, show that scientists were able to shut off the KMT6 gene which essentially regulates the function of 25% of the genome of the fungus. This resulted in the expression of thousands of genes which are silenced under natural conditions. These genes may code for compounds which have never before been studied for biotechnological purposes.
The newly expressed genes are involved in the production of secondary metabolites; organic compounds which may increase survival or reproduction rates of the fungus, and may also play a role in fungi pathogenicity. Further research may uncover properties which can be useful not only for medicinal, but also for agricultural, biofuel or industrial uses.
According to Michael Freitag, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the OSU College of Science and co-author of the paper, the study of these compounds could lead to previously unseen and beneficial biochemistry. According to the report, analysis of these compounds could create profound opportunities for future epigenetic engineering focused on creation of antibiotics or industrial raw materials, as well as new research opportunities on fungal toxins.