In the Aspergillus Website we concentrate on the medically important species of Aspergillus - in other words mostly those Aspergilli that cause us problems! However Aspergillus is far from just being a pathogen. Papers on the ecological and evolutionary importance of the Aspergillus genus make it clear that life on earth would rapidly grind to a hault if Aspergillus suddenly disappeared from the planet as it is expert in cleaning up all the debris that life leaves behind plus much of the pollution mans activities also deposit on and in the earth & seas that surround us.
This article in the Joint Genome Institute for Comparative Genomics shows us that man is also (and has for many centuries) using Aspergillus species for many useful purposes and industrial processes, taking advantage of its impressive natural variability in substrates it can use as food and the wide range of enzymes it produces naturally. Aspergillus species are also amenable to the large scale production of substances cloned into them.
Quoting from the article:
In the world of fungi, Aspergillus is an industrial superstar. Aspergillus niger, for example, has been used for decades to produce citric acid—a compound frequently added to foods and pharmaceuticals —through fermentation at an industrial scale. Other species in this genus play critical roles in biofuel production, and plant and human health. Since the majority of its 350 species have yet to be sequenced and analyzed, researchers are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding Aspergillus’ full potential and the spectrum of useful compounds they may generate.
In a study published February 14, 2017 in the journal Genome Biology, an international team including researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, report sequencing the genomes of 10 novel Aspergillus species, more than doubling the number of Aspergillus species sequenced to date. The newly sequenced genomes were compared with the eight other sequenced Aspergillus species. With this first ever genus-wide view, the international consortium found that Aspergillus has a greater genomic and functional diversity than previously understood, broadening the range of potential applications for the fungi considered one of the most important workhorses in the biotechnology.
“Several Aspergillus species have already established status as cell factories for enzymes and metabolites. However, little is known about the diversity in the species at the genomic level and this paper demonstrates how diverse the species of this genus are,” said study lead author Ronald de Vries of the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute in the Netherlands. “One can’t assume that an Aspergillus species will have the same physiology as a better studied species of the genus.”
It is apparent from these comments that not only is Aspergillus already an irreplaceable component of our biotechnology industries, it is likely to become more and more important as we find out more about the capabilities of its many species.