Friday, 19 December 2014

Turn Plastics into Food - Using Fungi!

Microbiologists and two designers have come up with a device dubbed the Fungi Mutarium, which is capable of turning biodegradable plastic into -- hold your breath -- edible mushrooms!
The Fungi Mutarium is the brainchild of Livin, an Austrian design studio, and Utrecht University, which aimed to create a device that could break down man-made trash and at the same time grow tasty edibles.
The experiment is a prototype that deploys fungi to break down plastic and grow edible fungal biomass or mushrooms. The device uses cups that are made of agar, which is an algae-based gelatin. The cups hold the fungus, which is used to digest the plastic which, in turn, has been sterilized by dousing it in UV light. Once the plastic has been digested, the agar cups and the content inside it become digestible. The process usually takes several months for the fungi to decompose all the plastic.
With the device, the team aimed to create a single solution that would address a host of issues ranging from pollution to food waste.
"We were both really inspired about the idea that something digests plastic but then still creates edible biomass,"said Katharina Unger, who is one of the designers.
Unger also reveals that the harvested pods have a mild taste; the fungi that is used is from the root of two of the most popular mushrooms around: oyster and split gill.
"It starts off being very neutral, but it can also get a bit nutty and spicy in taste. It really depends on the strain, actually," the research found.
However, the team asserts that the "neutral" taste is what makes the pods versatile in nature.
The Fungi Mutarium faces a few hurdles before it can make its way to consumers. A major drawback is that it takes several months for the plastic to break down. The product is still in its research phase and while the Fungi Mutarium has mass usage potential, it seems there is room for improvement. Unger, however, is optimistic.
"We know that there's potential to speed up this process simply by optimizing the processes around it: temperature, humidity, the perfect microclimate for this fungi to colonize the plastic material," says Unger.
The team is currently looking for more funding so that they can continue to work on improving the Fungi Mutarium.

Original article by Anu Passary

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Environmentally Friendly Nanotechnology using Fungi

Nanotechnology is a rapidly developing science and a number of methods are now available for producing nanoparticles. However, some of these methods employ high energy requirements, low material conversions and the use of hazardous chemicals. Hence, there is a growing need to develop eco-friendly nanoparticle synthesis methods.
Biosynthetic methods such as those that employ plant extracts or microorganisms have emerged as viable alternatives to physical and chemical synthetic procedures.

Fungi (including Aspergillus) are emerging as a prime candidate to produce nanoparticles in a far less environmentally damaging ways. This development is great news as nanotechnology is already proving to be of great use in advancing medical techniques for diagnosis and treatment, allowing for efficient drug delivery in places that have always been difficult to reach - a simple topical application of nano-drug on the skin for example is effective at getting the drug travelling deep through tissue to its target - in the past chemical solvents have had to be used for similar purposes and patients have had to tolerate toxic side effects.

Original article by Stuart Milne

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Chocolate Frosty Pod Rot = World Shortage of Chocolate!

Originally reported by Jennifer Frazer in the Scientific American Journal:
For a long time frosty pod rot was relatively confined to Colombia, Ecuador, and western Venezuela in northwest South America. Since the 1950s, it has spread throughout South and Central America, reaching Panama in 1956, Costa Rica in 1978, Nicaragua in 1980, Peru  in 1988, Honduras in 1997, Guatemala in 2002, Belize in 2004, and Mexico in 2005. It can cause growers to abandon entire cacao plantations, as losses in infected groves can near 100%
Frosty pod rot, along with its close relative witch’s broom of cacao, together have devastated cacao-farming regions in these countries, and “are responsible for the plummet in tropical American cocoa production,” according to a 2005 article in Mycologia. That sounds bad. At least one scientist, according to the authors of the Mycologia article, believes that M. roreri is “still in an invasive phase … and is poised to devastate already crippled production in Bolivia and Brazil, once it arrives in those countries.” Apparently, that is still true in 2013, as the poster that I discovered this pathogen on stated that frosty pod rot is still a “serious threat” to cacao plantations in Bolivia and Brazil, and even West Africa.

Changes in the climate of the areas that grow the world's supplies of chocolate (probably caused by Global Warming) are hitting the crop production and on top of that bad news the stress caused by dryer conditions and changes to the local flora & fauna are stimulating the growth of diseases of the cocao plant, particularly the fungal disease Frosty Pod Rot and other fungal infections.

This provides further evidence of the direct impact fungal diseases have on world economies - and of course to our enjoyment of the crops affected. Shortage of cocao pods will drive the price of chocolate up even further.

A further consequence of this fungal disease is that producers will eventually abandon old, infected growing areas and clear more patches of rainforest on which to grow more. Naturally the destruction of the rainforest will eventually have an impact of global warming! Are we getting into a never ending cycle of destruction??

Monday, 8 December 2014

Welcome Research Funding: Change of Approach

Refreshing our funding framework
Jeremy Farrar has announced a refreshed funding framework. The most significant changes include a clearer distinction between strategic and responsive funding, a major new scheme for collaborative research by teams, seed funding to support the generation of new ideas, more opportunities for the research leaders of the future and the merging of our New Investigator and Senior Investigator Awards.

Register for our webinar
, which will outline what the key changes mean in the context of our science portfolio, on 12 December at 11.00 GMT. This webinar will be of interest to researchers working in biomedical science and public health who are based in the UK, Republic of Ireland or in low- and middle-income countries. Find out more.

Damp Causes Mould Problems and Fire Hazard!

Reported during particularly wet weather in Montana, USA by Emily Glunk, MSU Extension Forage Specialist:

Following the large amounts of rain received throughout Montana in recent days, MSU Extension has received reports of heating and molding of hay bales that have been stacked and stored outside. Problems following heating and water damage of hay include spontaneous hay fires; quality loss of rained-on hay, especially if it continues to sit in water; and molding.
Spontaneous hay fires usually occur within six weeks of baling, however when external moisture such as heavy rain is added, issues can arise outside of that timeframe. Increases in bale moisture increase microbial activity, with heat as a by-product. It is typical to see temperatures peaking 3 to 7 days post-rainfall, but should return to normal by 60 days. This will depend on factors such as relative humidity, bale density, and amount of rainfall received. The longer it takes for the bale temperature to return to normal, the more likely for a fire or significant damage will occur to the hay.
Beyond possible spontaneous combustion, there are other quality losses associated with rained-on hay, especially hay that continues to sit in water. When hay begins to heat due to additional moisture, some of the proteins become unavailable for digestion due to binding with fiber. Unfortunately, this will still show up as crude protein on a standard lab test, and so may not exactly represent the amount of protein available to the animal.
Another well-known effect of rained-on hay is molding. Mold, and especially the mycotoxins that some molds produce, can be harmful to animals and humans alike. Horses are the most susceptible, with ingestion of moldy hay potentially resulting in respiratory and digestive issues. Ruminants aren’t as sensitive to moldy hay, but can experience negative effects such as abortions or aspergillosis. Additionally, there is a condition known as “farmer’s lung” that can occur in humans due to fungus growing in lung tissue after fungal spores have been inhaled.
MSU Extension forage specialist Emily Glunk has prepared an information sheet to answer questions and mitigate damage. Visit for more information.
In addition, MSU Extension plant pathologist Mary Burrows has prepared an Ag Alert for those with concerns about un-harvested winter wheat, spring wheat and barley that may be susceptible to grain sprouting in the head due to the large quantities of rain. Resources are available through MSU Extension at

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