Various methods are currently available to produce novel and improved fungal strains including classical mutagenesis, sampling from nature, and the use of genetic manipulation (GM) techniques. These have proved useful but each has limitations. Instead, recent discoveries of sexual cycles in some key fungal species used in biotechnology has meant that fungal sexual reproduction now offers an exciting new method for generating novel and improved strains. For example it might be possible to cross different strains with desirable attributes to select offspring with combinations of the desired attributes. In parallel, the sexual cycle produces considerable genetic variation and so it might be possible to generate certain offspring with entirely new and unexpectedly beneficial features. Finally, the sexual cycle can be used as a tool to determine the genetic basis of traits of industrial interest. However, a sexual cycle still has to be discovered in some key Aspergillus and Penicilllium species.
Work is currently in progress to see if the fungal sexual cycle can be used to produce novel strains of fungi with improved antibiotic, metabolite and flavour volatile production. In order to facilitate this work molecular biology techniques (GM, genomics, RNAseq) are also being used to determine the genetic mechanisms controlling sexual development so that these can be used to enhance sexual reproduction in species of economic importance including Aspergillus and Penicilllium species.
Specific PhD main aims are:
(1) Where as sexual cycle is known, to use sex to produce offspring which can be screened for improved attributes for the biotechnology sectors e.g. increased antibiotic production and better flavours for fungal food products.
(2) Where as sexual cycle is known, to use the sexual cycle as a classical genetic tool to determine the genetic basis of traits of interest such as metabolite and flavour production.
(3) To perform bioinformatic, genomic and RNA seq analysis to identify genes controlling fungal sexual development to see if these can be manipulated to increase levels of sexual reproduction. This might involve classical GM and recent CRISPR technologies.
(4) Where as sexual cycle is not known, to use a knowledge of fungal sex to see if sexual reproduction can be induced. This will involve both classical microbiological and modern GM techniques.
The PhD will offer training in classical microbiology procedures, biochemical screening, bioinformatic/genomic and molecular-genetic experimental work, and associated data analysis and computing skills. A range of biochemical extraction procedures will be used to identify possible metabolites of interest and to screen for improved industrial strains. This will include the use of a variety of chromatographic techniques e.g. GC-MS and HPLC.