Introduction to fungal bioremediation

Topic:David Moore's World of Fungi

In informal terms there are three major groups of fungi:

  • moulds (filamentous fungi that might be found growing on something old at the back of the fridge);
  • yeasts (unicellular organisms that in nature form the blooms on fruit like grapes and are used to make bread and beer);
  • mushroom fungi (which make the most complex fruit bodies comprised of several distinctively differentiated tissues; including the cultivated (‘button’) mushroom, shiitake, oyster mushroom, etc.).

Whilst they all have different properties, they generally all share the key feature of the fungal lifestyle, which is the ability to decay organic matter as a means of accessing the nutrients that waste materials contain (saprotrophism).

In fact the recycling ability of fungi is the area that holds the prime interest for scientists today. Lignin is one of three components of plant cell walls (the others being cellulose and hemicellulose), and is a complex polymer which provides the strength and support in the secondary growth of perennial plants like bushes and trees; it is part of the woody tissue that makes timber as we know it. However, lignin is a complex polyphenolic; whilst it is of great use to all plants, it is a major problem for most microorganisms that try to access the nutrients inside the plant, but are foiled by the phenolic antiseptics released by any attempt to degrade its lignocellulose protective barrier. In fact, there is only one type of microorganism that can degrade lignin…and , yes, you guessed it…it’s the fungi.

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