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Fungal genomics project

Genome Canada and Genome Qu├ębec. Applicants: Adrian Tsang (Concordia), Reginald Storms (Concordia), Gregory Butler (Concordia), Peter Lau (BRI, NRC), Michael Paice (Paprican), Justin Powlowski (Concordia), Robert Bourbonnais (Paprican), Luc Varin (Concordia), Paul Joyce (Concordia), Richard Villemur (INRS - Institute Armand Frappier), Clement Lam (Concordia), Michel Sylvestre (INRS - Institute Armand Frappier), Selvadurai Dayanandan (Concordia), Francois Shareck (INRS - Institute Armand Frappier), Xiao Zhang (Paprican).

The fungal genomics project uses functional genomics approaches to identify fungal enzymes for industrial and environmental applications. It is a large-scale, gene discovery program on evolutionarily diverse fungal species chosen for their ability to grow at environmental extremes and their known ability in biodegradation, bioremediation and biocatalysis.

Fungal enzymes are already being used widely in industry. They are versatile and can be used in challenging environments. Besides, they are readily available and they can be produced at low cost. Enzymes can be put to many different uses, such as breaking down wood by removing liquid-based materials in wood, breaking down cellulose fibres and resins in trees, or removing fat and protein in clothes. Some people call such enzymes "degradative" because they can be used to break down organic materials, including dirt in laundry. For the pulp and paper industry, some of these uses are important. In terms of dry weight in trees, about 50% is fibre, and the rest has to be disposed of, in order to produce fine paper. Enzymes can replace or supplement the job of chemicals used in bleaching agents.

The research spans two sectors of strategic importance to Canada; namely forestry and environment. To realize its intrinsically related objectives, this project brings together experts from several disciplines: gene manipulation, enzyme biochemistry, comparative genomics and informatics from Concordia University; biobleaching and biopulping from the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada; bioremediation from INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier; and biocatalysis from the National Research Council.

The project expects to identify over 70,000 new genes from 15 fungal species. These genes will be identified by comparing their sequences with known genes of interest, as well as by studying which genes are expressed when the fungi are challenged with different chemical substances. The project will develop high throughput methods to characterize the function of the enzymes produced by these genes. The effectiveness of these gene products in industrial processes and in environmental remediation will also be tested.

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