Fungi are ubiquitous in all ecosystems and vital for its functions. There are more than 70,000 species of fungi described and more than 1.5 million species are estimated to exist. They segregate a broad range of hydrolytic enzymes that can break down complex biopolymers and produce chemically and structurally complex compounds with high industrial interest.
The Applied and Environmental Mycology group aims to enlarge filamentous fungi biotechnological potential. Our research plan was set in order to tackle real-world challenging global problems. Current advances on fungal biology, namely the increasing number of available sequenced organisms, favour the use of functional genomics to study the response of fungi to natural and anthropogenic stresses. A better understanding of fungal biology may lead to the identification of novel species, functions and biomolecules for a variety of biotechnological applications, especially within biodegradation and bioremediation. Recently we demonstrated e.g. that a broad diversity of common Ascomycota fungi are able to degrade pentachlorophenol, a persistent organic pollutant which is globally recognised as a major environmental concern. Efforts to describe the degradation pathways are being done in order to define fungi potential for bioremediation and the environmental fate of the toxic and its inherent risks.
Ionic liquids, i.e. molten salts, are classified as "green” alternative solvents, offering unexpected opportunities on the interface with the life sciences. However, in order to move these solvents beyond being an academic curiosity, their environmental, health, and safety impact must be further investigated. The team is addressing this multidisciplinary subject, which links Microbiology to Green Chemistry, aiming to understand ionic liquids impacts in fungal metabolism, highlighting their higher biotechnological potential. Our initial observations demonstrated that Ascomycota fungi show much higher tolerance towards ionic liquids than any other microorganism so far studied. Furthermore, guided by the paradigm that the choice of an ionic liquid as catalyst can alter the outcome of a given chemical reaction, we have studied their ability to alter the metabolic profile in fungi. Surprisingly, fungal cultures respond to specific ionic liquids by changing their cell biochemistry, resulting in an altered pattern of secondary metabolites. At the moment we are investigating the potential use of novel biocompatible ionic liquids in processes aimed at biopolymers extraction and dissolution and fungal biodegradation.
Garcia, H., Ferreira, R., Petkovic, M., Ferguson, J., Leitão, M. C., Gunaratne, N., Seddon, K. R., Rebelo, L. P. N. and Silva Pereira, C., Green Chem., 2010, DOI:10.1039/B922553F.
M. Petkovic, K. R. Seddon, L. P. N. Rebelo and C. Silva Pereira, Ionic Liquids: A Pathway to Environmental Acceptability. Chem. Soc. Rev., 2010, DOI:10.1039/c004968a.
Petkovic, M; Ferguson, J; Bohn, A; Trindade, J; Martins, I; Carvalho, MB; Leitao, MC; Rodrigues, C; Garcia, H; Ferreira, R; Seddon, KR; Rebelo, LPN; Silva Pereira, C. Exploring fungal activity in the presence of ionic liquid. Green Chem, 2009. 11 (6): 889-894