Fungal Biotechnology, Biotechnology of Renewable Natural Resources, and Bioremediation

Fruiting body of the wood rotting fungus Physisporinus rivulosusThe main research topics of our Fungal Biotechnology Research Group are the decomposition and conversion of lignocelluloses and lignin by wood-rotting and litter-decomposing fungi, and elucidation of the fungal oxidative and hydrolytic enzymes. We also study potential applications of the fungi and their oxidative and cellulolytic enzymes, e.g. in the pulp and paper industry and in the remediation of polluted soils and waste waters.

Lignocellulosic plant biomass, such as wood and straw, contains mainly cellulose and hemicelluloses, and 20-30% of aromatic lignin compounds, which makes lignin the second most abundant renewable organic polymer complex on Earth. Lignin is presently the most unexploited renewable natural material, the significance of which is acknowledged due to current interest of using plant materials and lignin instead of petroleum oil for feedstock production.

Biological decomposition of lignin and wood occurs via biochemical attack primarily initiated by basidiomycetous white-rot and litter-decomposing fungi. As an important microbial resource we have the Fungal Biotechnology Culture Collection (FBCC) of about 2200 strains of wood-decaying basidiomycetes and ascomycetes involved in agricultural lignocellulose decay. 

Pocket rotOur specific interest has focussed on fungal secreted peroxidases and laccases, and oxalate metabolism in our model white rot fungi Phlebia radiata and Physisporinus rivulosus. Genome sequencing and transcriptome analyses upon wood-decay are ongoing for P. radiata, and our goal is to reveal extracellular events during wood decay. Comparative genomic bioinformatics is performed to elucidate the similarities and dissimilarities of lignocelluloses decay by the white and brown rot fungal species. Our research focuses also on cellulose, hemicelluloses and inulin hydrolyzing enzymes.

ForestUtilization of the whole plant biomass in biorefineries especially for fuel and feedstock chemicals is under an extensive investigation all over the world. Enzymes and fungi can be used to treat wood chips prior to pulping in a process called biopulping, and they can be used to bleach paper pulp in a process called biobleaching. Fungi and their enzymes are also able to convert or remove e.g. polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), chlorinated compounds and hormone disrupting compounds such as bisphenol A, in bioremediation processes. Therefore, fungi and their enzymes provide a powerful source for the basic biotechnical tools for development of modern and environmentally sustainable industrial or white biotechnology processes.

Principal investigators: Professor Annele Hatakka and university lecturer, Docent Taina Lundell.

Members of the research group: University researcher Dr. Kristiina Hildén, university lecturer Dr. Pauliina Lankinen and post doctorates Mika Kähkönen, Miia Mäkelä, Ilona Oksanen, Marja Tuomela, and Jussi Heinonsalo (partially); researcher Aila Mettälä, and doctoral students Jaana Ekojärvi, Samuel Hartikainen, Grit Kabiersch, Sadegh Mansouri, Johanna Rytioja, and M.Sc. students and trainees.