Wednesday, 27 May 2009

New classes of fungal phytase genes discovered.

Phytase is produced commercially by microbial fermentation using the fungus Aspergillus niger and other micro-organisms. Phytase is an enzyme used in the animal feed industry that enhances the nutritional value of animal feed and diminishes the phosphate burden on the environment. Phytase hydrolyzes phytic acid, which is the principle storage form of phosphorus in feedstocks of plant origin and can not be digested by gastric farm animals such as pigs and poultry. Phytic acid also forms complexes with proteins, digestive enzymes and minerals, and as such is considered to be an anti-nutritional factor.

The use of phytase eliminates the need to supplement feeds with inorganic sources of essential phosphate. Thus, by releasing bound phosphate in feed ingredients, phytase makes more phosphate available for bone growth, and reduces the amount excreted into the environment.

The discovery of the new fungal genes by TNO, is significant for the commercial production of animal feedstuffs. The increasing availability of fungal genome sequences has allowed a genome mining approach to identify the new gene classes. One class is distantly related to known fungal phytases and the other embraces fungal phytases showing a high homology to bacterial phytases. In collaboration with Dyadic NL, these new phytase gene candidates have been expressed in Chrysosporium lucknowense and were shown to be functionally active.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Hazard to world health reduced by Aspergillus

Aspergillus is especially useful for the industrial production of many substances: proteins, enzymes, vitamins and other chemicals as it can be engineered to produce substances in large quantities.

Acrylamide gel being used for DNA sequencingAcrylamide is a highly toxic chemical that is used to form gels useful for many purposes in the laboratory. It was also discovered to be present in fried and baked foods in 2002 and due to its toxicity (carcinogenic and neurotoxic) has been the subject of health campaigns to warn people of the dangers of overheating and overcooking food at high temperatures.

Potato chipsSafe levels of acrylamide are not easy to provide and the wide range of possible sources (i.e. many foods regularly eaten across the world) make this a difficult problem.

It should also be noted that these foods have been in common use in many parts of the world for a long time - this is not a new health risk.

One solution is to treat all at risk foods with an enzyme (acrylamide reducing enzymes) that reduces the amount of acrylamide in those foods. Two such commercial products are emerging; Acrylaway, produced by Novozymes using Aspergillus and PreventAse, an acrylamide-reducing enzyme derived from Aspergillus niger.

Use of these products and others like them should help reduce the risk of acrylamide poisoning for everyone.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Health Risks of Composting

Two recent cases (1, 2) have illustrated that composting in the garden is potentially dangerous for some people.

In a recent article on this blog we discussed several groups that should be cautious when handling compost or any other material that is likely to rot e.g. bark chippings, dead leaves, grass cuttings and more:

  1. Asthmatics, especially severe fungally sensitive asthmatics (SAFS)
  2. Allergic BronchoPulmonary Aspergillosis sufferers (ABPA)
  3. Other people suffering from chronic pulmonary infection by fungi eg Chronic Pulmonary Aspergillosis (CPA)
  4. Immunocompromised people (Transplant patients, recipients of chemotherapy, people taking corticosteroids, people suffering from Chronic Granulomatous Disorder (CGD), Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetics)
These people should avoid all contact with risky materials and for that matter avoid any areas that encourage mould growth - essentially dark, damp places & buildings, even rotten food in a refrigerator.

If a person cannot avoid contact with mould then they should wear an adequate face mask. An ordinary woodworkers dust mask is useless as the spores are so tiny they would not be filtered out. As a minimum specification an N95 facemask is suitable - see facemask guidelines on the Aspergillus Website.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Aspergillosis: A patient's success story

Christine and Brian Lowe launching the National Aspergillosis Centre alongside Dr Chris SteeleBrian Lowe had beaten cancer and MRSA but was still ill. He coughed up copious amounts of phlegm and the normal antibiotics had no effect. His local doctor admitted defeat and referred Brian to the North West Lung Centre (NWLC) at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, UK.
Within the NWLC there are consultants and specialists with several different types of expertise and the facilities to diagnose and treat a wide range of respiratory illness.

Luckily the NWLC also houses the clinic that has now become the National Aspergillosis Centre (NAC) and Brian was quickly diagnosed as suffering from an aspergillus infection of his lungs that followed his cancer treatment (full story).
Rapid diagnosis is essential to improve the outcome for most patients suffering from all types of aspergillosis and the NAC is ideally positioned to achieve those needs alongside the Regional Medical Mycology Laboratories also .

Thankfully Brian recovered well after treatment and was well enough to help launch the National Aspergillosis Centre last week (1st May). Hopefully many more success stories will follow!

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