Zhang & Schilling (2017) Fungal Genetics & Biology. Last year in Jiwei's lead author paper (Zhang et al. (2016) PNAS) we showed that brown rot fungi differentially express oxidative and hydrolytic genes to separate those incompatible steps of wood decay. Here, we show how - by cuing oxidative repression and cellulase induction on the same sugar (cellobiose) as it is released from wood. Clever!
Presley et al. (2017) Applied & Environmental Microbiology. Gerry Presley shares a story about fungal secretome investment tradeoffs, using the ever-quirky Serpula lacrymans to show how being 'chincy' with proteins matches the lifestyle of a lumber pest.
Song et al. (2017) Functional Ecology. Endophytic fungi that harbor in living trees include saprotrophs that can decay wood later, once a tree dies. Here, we tracked the successes among these saprotrophs in dead wood in controlled environments, and we found that those with a certain skill set (aka set of traits) won every time. This implies a predictable process (attention modelers), but who won was a cool surprise.
About the Lab
Since 2006, our research has been basic and applied mycology. We focus most of our efforts on fungi that decompose non-edible plant tissues like wood, with specific attention to the basics of how they metabolically transform carbon. Understanding that underlying biology is very important when prospecting new metabolites and pathways for biomass conversion and medicine. It also provides biological insight into terrestrial carbon dynamics. Carbon cycling shapes our climate. The more we know about plant decomposition, the better we will be at predicting how our climate will change – plants are the largest pool of biotic carbon on Earth.
The techniques we use in the laboratory combine old and new, and are increasingly in a collaborative context. Wood degradation research has been active for over 100 years, often with the focus on durability. Many techniques evolved in a pre-molecular (before DNA-based tools) era and focused as much on analyzing the changes in the plant tissues (lignocellulose) as they did on the fungi. These were often very clever benchtop techniques, and they remain extremely useful in our lab. With the proliferation of DNA- and RNA-based tools, we now have an amazing window into the fungal processes and community assembly dynamics driving these processes. This adds to the picture rather than supplanting the old view; therefore, we are coupling modern tools (transcriptomics, proteomics, enzymatic assays) with traditional techniques (C fraction mass balance, wood solubilities, fungal biomarkers), with the goal of linking fungi and their genomes to their functional roles in nature and in our day-to-day lives.