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The secret sex life of the penicillin-producing fungus could make it more productive
Date:1/14/2013

itous discovery that a Penicillium mold, which had contaminated a bacterial culture, was able to inhibit the growth of nearby bacteria by releasing penicillin into its surroundings. Over 10 years later two scientists, Ernst Chain and Howard Florey, were the first to grow the fungus in large quantities to generate enough penicillin to treat patients. These events heralded the start of the antibiotic era, which has been one of the most important advances in medicine. Fleming, Chain, and Florey later shared the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine. Since then it has only been possible to develop strains of P. chrysogenum with elevated production of penicillin by conventional mutagenesis.

The researchers found that sexual reproduction could be induced in P. chrysogenum when strains were mated in the dark on oatmeal with a vitamin supplement. They demonstrated that the sexual cycle could be used for strain development purposes by producing offspring with new combinations of important biotechnological properties for penicillin production, such as the removal of chrysogenin, a contaminating substance produced by the fungus. Furthermore, the team discovered that mating-type genes, which control sex in fungi, have additional roles regulating other developmental processes of biotechnological relevance.

Inducing sex in celibate fungi

Fungi are used to produce many important pharmaceutical products including statins and antibiotics, and most species involved have long been considered to be asexual. But the present findings suggest that sexual reproduction could be triggered in other supposedly asexual fungi if the mating-type genes and correct growth conditions can be identified.


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Contact: Lindsay Brooke
lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk
44-011-595-15751
University of Nottingham
Source:Eurekalert

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