The Hidden Connection Between Sex And Bio-Fuels

The fungus Trichoderma reesei is known for its ability to convert plant waste into glucose, which can be fermented into ethanol fuel. But there's that ever-present question: how can we make this process better? Turns out the answer is sex.

The chemicals industry very commonly uses fungi to generate useful chemicals. The fungus T. reesei, with its ability to convert useless plant waste into very useful glucose, leads the pack. It's referred to as the "industrial workhorse."

Most of the fungi that we use to generate these chemicals reproduce asexually. T. reesei, originally extracted from moldering army uniforms 50 years ago, was assumed to reproduce only asexually. But in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team from Vienna, Austria, reports that they have found a way to get T. reesei to reproduce sexually. (No word on whether this involved Barry White records or champagne.)

Sexual reproduction is often better for a biological population than asexual reproduction. Sex allows for the correcting of minor mutations and spreads genetic variation across a population. Sexual crossing in T. reesei will allow the fungus to kick up its efficiency in glucose production and therefore better serve the bio-fuels industry.

T. reesei's sexual reproduction will also allow scientists to create stronger and more specialized strains of the fungus more easily. Sexual variation will open the door to better and better chemical synthesis using T. reesei. Who knew that sex could solve so many problems?

Sexual development in the industrial workhorse Trichoderma reesei [PNAS]