February 2020

Fungal Biodiversity Course 2020 – in retrospect

The annual Fungal Biodiversity Course of 2020 was held from 10-14 February at the Westerdijk Institute in Utrecht. Participants from 9 countries attended the course and were provided with lectures by scientists of Westerdijk Institute, and by invited lecturers Thom Kuyper (Wageningen University) and Grit Walther (Hans-Knöll-Institut, Jena). Seventy living cultures displaying their typical characteristics  and representing all groups of culturable fungi were studied by the participants in the practical work sessions. For the first time in the 40-year-long history of this annual course it was done in a one-week format, posing quite a challenge for both the organisers and participants. The participants showed a stimulating eagerness to absorb it all, and we look forward to hear their feedback to further improve this course.

FUSE volume 5

Fungal Systematics and Evolution (FUSE) volume 5 – June 2020 – full issue is available online at Ingenta and via fuse-journal.org. FUSE is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, full colour, fast-track journal. Papers will include reviews, research articles, methodology papers, taxonomic monographs, and the description of fungi.

Keynote speakers Rise of the Fungi

Professor Axel Brakhage, scientific director of the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Jena (Germany) will speak about biologically active compounds produced during microbial interactions and how biotechnology tools allow us mastering their biosynthesis, in his keynote lecture for the session ‘Fungal applications: metabolites and enzymes’.

The sequencing of fungal genomes has revealed an unexpected high potential for secondary metabolite production. Most of these biosynthetic pathways are however inactive under laboratory conditions. The key question is how to activate those silent genes? The development of biotechnology tools to do that is closely related to understanding how the production of compounds is regulated in fungi. Aspergillus species are the model organism that Prof. Axel Brakhage uses most to study this regulation and find new strategies to ‘unlock’ the genes. For example, simulating the natural habitat by co-cultivation of microorganisms, like bacteria, from the same ecological niche, already led to the activation of silent gene clusters and the production of new compounds in Aspergillus nidulans. More about new advances in fungal secondary metabolism in Prof. Brakhage’s talk.

Keynote speaker of the session: ‘Human health: fungi on the move’ will be Matthew Fisher, professor of Fungal Disease Epidemiology at St Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London.

Matthew Fisher’s main interest lies in the biological and environmental factors driving emerging infectious disease. In this talk he will focus on the emergence of azole-resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus. New and unprecedented research points to the use of azoles in the environment as the main cause of resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus. ‘Azole resistance is a very recent problem, it only emerged in the 1990’s, around the time azoles were introduced in agriculture. Our research shows azole resistance evolved a very limited number of times, maybe only once, and after that it spread globally and very fast.’ Fisher has used genome sequencing of 600 isolates from all over the world in order to establish the source (or sources) of the resistance.

So far he has published only a small part of the research. At ‘Rise of the fungi’ he will uncover more of the outcomes from his research group. He will also discuss two promising new drugs and suspected hotspots of amplification of azole resistance such as the Dutch bulb industry.

IMA Board meeting

On Saturday 25 April, the day after the Symposium “Rise of the Fungi”, the International Mycological Association  (IMA) Executive Committee will hold their meeting at the Westerdijk Institute.


Public Symposium Fungal Catastrophes

“At the 50th International Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute is organizing a public evening about the emergence of novel and resistant fungi and its consequences for people and the environment. The public evening is the opening of the international scientific symposium "Rise of the Fungi". Three renowned scientists will talk about the emergence of new pathogenic fungi and resistance to antifungal agents. How should infections be fought in humans if fungi are resistant to the usual drugs? What are the prospects for developing new antifungal agents? Is there a solution to the global problem of the dying banana trees caused by mold? What impact does the introduction of fungi in new living environments have on the biodiversity of the amphibians present there? The lectures will be in English. The venue of the public evening will be the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (“KNAW”) in Amsterdam.”

Beauveria loeiensis ascomata on leaf-rolling cricket, Gryllacrididae, Orthoptera (Picture: Biotec, Thailand)

Going bananas

Prof.dr.ir. GHJ (Gert) Kema, Wageningen University, Wageningen

Going Bananas is the title of the second lecture of our public symposium. Bananas are a major food crop. In his lecture, Gert Kema will shed light on a disastrous disease in bananas: Fusarium Wilt of banana (FWB) or Panama disease, which is caused by a suite of soil-borne fungi that belong to the genus Fusarium. In the previous century FWB devastated Gros Michel banana plantations in Central America. Fortunately, another cultivar with resistance to the disease, the Cavendish banana, saved the industry.

Today, FWB threatens banana again. Cavendish bananas and many local varieties destined for domestic markets are decimated by a new Fusarium species, the so-called Tropical Race 4 (TR4). However, Cavendish bananas cannot be substituted with resistant varieties. They are not available and developing new varieties is complicated because all edible bananas are sterile and hence develop seedless fruits. This is the very reason why we can eat them, contrary to wild bananas whose pea-sized seeds fill-up the entire fruit. Hence, all edible bananas are propagated as clones. This makes banana crops genetically identical – so-called monocultures - and therefore vulnerable to a plethora of disease and pests.

Kema addresses in his lecture interesting and puzzling properties of Fusarium fungi causing FWB, how they spread across the globe and possible short and long-term ways to deal with the disease.

Westerdijk students and staff presenting at ECFG in Rome

Staff and students presenting themselves at the ECFG15 (15th European Conference on Fungal Genetics) in Rome, Italy, last week

Sandra Garrigues giving a flashtalk (3min) at Asperfest (a satellite workshop at ECFG15) in Rome, Italy.

Ronnie Lubbers, PhD in de Fungal Physiology Research Group of Ronald P. de Vries, won a poster prize at the Asperfest satellite workshop at the ECFG15! 


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