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Biobanks and fungus have untold secrets

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Fungus holds many secrets and might just be what you looking for to find a solution to a complex problem. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Biobanks and fungus have untold secrets

If you’re in the mining, energy, health, agriculture or environmental sectors, and you like thinking out of the box, or if you’re trying to solve a complex environmental problem, why not go and look for a solution where nobody else does?

By Leon Louw owner of WhyAfrica

WhyAfrica did exactly that and found a bag full of new fascinating ideas, incredible scientific research, and unbelievable stories to keep us busy for another century at least.

If you haven’t heard of Biodiversity Biobanks yet, best you find out what they are and look for one close to you. The sooner the better. These Biobanks might just hold the key to the solution you’ve been looking for.

Biodiversity Biobanks preserve genetic resources, including reproductive tissues such as seeds, egg and sperm, and other tissues including blood, DNA extracts and microbial cultures, representing all species, strains, varieties, and breeds (including domesticated crops and livestock).

These collections can be used to support research, capacity development and the development of new or improved products and practices in the fields of agriculture, mining, energy, human health and well-being, environmental management, and conservation biology.

South Africa has seven main Biobanks now represented by the Biodiversity Biobanks of South Africa (BBSA). South Africa already has a wealth of biobank samples, collected over many years from across Africa, and if these are appropriately secured, they could be used to create a time-series of biomaterials that will help us understand change, and allow us to predict how this change will play out into the future.

WhyAfrica plans to visit a number of these biobanks over the next few months. We started our Biobank tour by visiting Riana Jacobs, Curator and researcher at the National Collection of Fungi, Biosystematics Division at the ARC-Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa last week.

Fungus and its application in mining (Biobanks and fungus have untold secrets)

If you’re in the mining or environmental management sectors and you wonder what fungus has to do with you, only a little bit of research will unveil the incredible and diverse applications of fungus in mining, remediation, and rehabilitation.

For example, lichens and fungi can colonise and dissolve constituents of asbestos and studies have shown that certain fungi can solubilise low grade iron ore for the bioleaching process.

In South Africa alone, there are reportedly close to 5700 derelict asbestos mines that pose a serious environmental and health threat to communities in these areas.

Pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical technologies for recovery of metals from low grade ores require high energy and capital costs. The use of microorganisms in leaching of mineral ores have gained importance over the last few years as mining companies focus more on reducing costs and improving their environmental performance.

Microbes have been known to convert metal compounds into their water soluble forms and are biocatalysts of leaching processes and there are several studies where this process has been done extremely successful.

But that’s not all! Fungi can be used in several other applications in mining and agriculture. To find out more you will have to wait for our main feature in the April issue of WhyAfrica’s magazine, which will focus on way out “out of the box” thinking for industry to change the world.

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Alternatively, you can become a WhyAfrica member and gain deeper insight into the wonderful world of fungus and what you can do with this genetic material. To become a member click here: https://www.whyafrica.co.za/product/membership/

In the video is Riana’s fantastic collection of Bracket fungi which often grows in semi-circular shapes, looking like trees or wood. They can be parasitic, saprotrophic, or both.

The magic of fungi (Biobanks and fungus have untold secrets)

According to a study by a number of authors called: The amazing potential of fungi: 50 ways we can exploit fungi industrially (published online in 2019) fungi are an understudied, biotechnologically valuable group of organisms.

“Due to the immense range of habitats that fungi inhabit, and the consequent need to compete against a diverse array of other fungi, bacteria, and animals, fungi have developed numerous survival mechanisms.

“The unique attributes of fungi thus herald great promise for their application in biotechnology and industry. Moreover, fungi can be grown with relative ease, making production at scale viable.

“The search for fungal biodiversity, and the construction of a living fungi collection, both have incredible economic potential in locating organisms with novel industrial uses that will lead to novel products.” (From: The amazing potential of fungi: 50 ways we can exploit fungi industrially, 2019)

This manuscript reviews fifty ways in which fungi can potentially be utilised as biotechnology. Fungi have provided the world with penicillin, lovastatin, and other globally significant medicines, and they remain an untapped resource with enormous industrial potential.

Biobanks and fungus have untold secrets

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Biobanks and fungus hold untold mining secrets

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