Fossil Fuel Shortage: Do Mushrooms Hold the Key?
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The world today is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and chemicals. Yet oil reserves and other natural resources are finite, and their use leaves behind an unsustainable, ecological footprint. Mindful of this problem, Professor Adrian Tsang is looking for a sustainable solution by studying mushroom DNA from every angle. His genomics research could well pave the way to a new, cleaner source of energy.
Fossil Fuel Shortage: Solutions Powered by Mushrooms?
Our fossil fuel reserves are steadily being depleted and scientists all over the world are looking for effective, ecological alternatives. Among them is Adrian Tsang, a professor of Biology at Concordia University and Director of the Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics. He may well have found the answer and he uses genomics to do it.
Are mushrooms the answer?
Professor Tsang studies genes and he believes that the answer to our dwindling reserves of fossil fuel might just be hiding in the lowly mushroom! That’s why he has been hard at work, sequencing and analyzing the DNA of fungi. His goal is to understand their structure and functioning so that innovative technology can be developed. So far, his research has helped him design processes that reduce the use of chemicals in industry. More importantly, it has also allowed him to convert wood residue into bioethanol, a clean source of energy.
Because of their unique features, fungi are classed neither as plants or animals. Most are harmless or beneficial, some can cause diseases. They represent an interesting and promising research avenue in environmental genomics. For example, they could be used to decontaminate the soil of the entire planet.
“Fungi play a natural role in decomposition. They break down woody biomass, which includes limbs, tops, needles, leaves, bushes and shrubs, into sugars. That makes fungi an ideal natural laboratory where we can search for the proteins involved in this process, which we aim to harness and duplicate,” Professor Tsang explains.
This revolutionary technology would considerably reduce our fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Tsang believes it holds major economic potential and could help the planet as a whole be less reliant on oil and chemicals.
Bioethanol is produced from plant-based materials and can be used in certain gasoline engines. Plants that contain sugars (e.g. sugar cane, beets) or starch (e.g. wheat, corn) can be converted into bioethanol. The way it is currently being produced is controversial, however, since it generally uses corn, which is exacerbating the food crises that exist in many parts of the world. That is why Professor Tsang’s research on fungi is so crucial. It will allow us to transition to the next generation of biofuels, a form that does not rely on food sources.
Génome Québec believes that genomics will improve the way we care for the environment, which is why it has contributed to the sum of $17.4 million awarded to Professor Tsang’s research project. That’s just one of the ways Génome Québec is bringing science to life.
Professor of Biology at Concordia University
“The advantage of using fuels made from forest and agricultural residues is that we are not increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The combustion of fossil fuels releases, in the form of CO2, carbon trapped underground for millions of years. Trees and crops trap carbon from the atmosphere when they grow. The carbon trapped in plant biomass is released back in the atmosphere when they decompose to complete the natural cycle. By diverting plant biomass for fuel production would provide society with a sustainable energy source without upsetting the natural cycle.”