Cornell University Genetically Engineered Machines


Basidiomycete fungi are very effective chelators of metal ions. Many basidiomycetes are capable of recovering the potentially harmful metals cadmium, lead, and mercury from the environment, making these fungi a promising candidate for bioremediation of areas with heavy metal pollution [1]. Our fungal toolkit could prove useful for this purpose as well—upregulation of these metal chelating pathways and biosensing genetic circuits could feasibly be integrated into a basidiomycete strain, decreasing pollution while simultaneously monitoring and reporting pollution levels.

Photo: Allison Chan
In addition, fungal mycelium can form dense masses (like Ecovative’s biomaterial) that can slow the flow of water and act as a solids filter. Such filters could act as permanent bioswales or buffers around water bodies, decreasing runoff pollution from agricultural and industrial areas. A safe filter could also be developed for human use. Such a filter would be reusable and inexpensive, providing clean water to those in impoverished areas. Our fungal toolkit would be vital to the development of these products. To reproduce, some fungi release spores that (depending on the species) could be harmful if inhaled. Thus, to produce a fungal material safe for food or water containment, sporulation should be regulated. Sporulation in basidiomycetes is regulated by the highly conserved velvet protein group, so our fungal toolkit could be utilized to silence these genes, creating a safe fungal product [2].


1. Machuca, A. (2011). Metal-chelating agents from ectomycorrhizal fungi and their biotechnological potential. (Vol. 25, pp. 347-369). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-15196-5_15

2. Chen, S., et al. (2012). Genome sequence of the model medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum. Nature Communications, 3, doi: doi:10.1038/ncomms1923