Cornell University Genetically Engineered Machines

Background Information

Cornell iGEM is developing a toolkit of genetic parts for engineering complex fungi, particularly plant-pathogenic basidiomycetes. This toolkit will provide future iGEM generations and scientists worldwide with a greater ability to work with these seldom studied organisms. We were inspired to do so by a local company, Ecovative Design, that is driven to “rid the world of toxic, unsustainable materials,” and thus uses lignin-degrading fungi and plant matter to produce a biodegradable Styrofoam substitute. Upon consulting the company on their production process, we
found that their production efficiency can sometimes suffer due to contamination from pathogenic molds, which inhibits the growth of the desired fungus and can compromise batches of material. We recognized that this problem could be solved with a genetic circuit that confers resistance to specific mold species, and we hoped to use such a genetic circuit to improve their existing eco-friendly biomaterial. Because both industry and academia largely lack standardized fundamental tools for engineering fungi, we first had to develop a standardized toolkit. We seek to empower Ecovative and other organizations to improve the use of fungi to develop sustainable technologies.