Monday, November 29, 2021

A fungus that eats charcoal? Cool

Pretty neat chemistry finding in this mycology paper covered by the New York Times: 

A new study, published last month in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, aimed to uncover the food source that allows Pyronema, a genus of pyrophilous fungi, to appear so quickly in such big numbers after a fire... 

To find out if Pyronema can eat charcoal, the authors grew the fungus from samples collected by Dr. Bruns’s team after the Rim fire in California in 2013. The Pyronema lived on charcoal, as well as three other nutrient sources for comparison. Then they dunked the fungus in liquid nitrogen and sent it off for RNA sequencing.

“If it’s trying to eat the charcoal, we would see a bunch of metabolic genes getting turned on — which is what we saw,” Dr. Fischer said. And many were genes involved in breaking down the complex ring structures that make up charcoal.

To confirm that the fungus was actually doing what it appeared to be doing, Dr. Whitman’s lab grew pine seedlings in an atmosphere with carbon dioxide containing carbon-13, an isotope whose unusual weight makes it easy to trace, and then put the trees in a specialized furnace to form charcoal, which was fed to the Pyronema. Like us, fungi take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, most of which comes from whatever they are eating. The fungus’s carbon-13-labeled emissions, then, suggested that it really was snacking on charcoal.

Of course, I'm terribly curious if there are industrial applications of this fungus, but I am guessing there are other, more practical ways of getting rid of charcoal...


  1. CJ, I suspect you're right that there are other, more practical ways of getting rid of charcoal. But the idea that these fungi eat complex ring systems suggests experiments in environmental detox. I wonder if they eat pharmaceutical synthesis byproducts? Or dioxins?

  2. it could be useful for oil spill remediation and decontamination of sites where there are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the ground. And charcoal is excellent absorber of PAHs. First, mix the sludge with powdered charcoal, next spray the fungus spores on it and hope it would gobble it all up including the PAHs


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20