Australian Functional Fungi Initiative
This national program aims to create foundational genomic, metabolomic and proteomic data resources to fast-track knowledge and innovation in Australian fungi.
The fungal kingdom is taxonomically separated from both plants and animals. Fungi have unique characteristics including structure, metabolites, nutritional properties and ecological functions. Like many native flora and fauna, Australian fungi are hypothesised to be both taxonomically and functionally unique from northern hemisphere taxa. However, we have very little knowledge surrounding the identification and function of Australia’s native fungi. This knowledge gap creates immense opportunity for exploration and innovative translation of ‘omics data from Australian native fungi.
Globally, currently 148,000 species of fungi are recognised, however the vast majority of fungal species (estimate of over 90%) are currently unknown to science and the total number is somewhere between 2.2 and 3.8 million. The majority of knowledge of fungal species in Australia stems from alignment of species thought to have originated, or be analogues of northern hemisphere fungal species. This has led to both incorrect identification and an underestimation about the true diversity, origin and potential of Australian fungi.
Although the scale of this kingdom is challenging, the discovery of novel fungal taxa and their metabolic products and functions is gaining global interest for research and industry. Exploratory research is needed to gain insight into potential novel taxa and functions found in Australian native fungi. Characterising organisms, substrates and growth environments could accelerate the development of fungal based products or processors while, simultaneously, benefitting basic microbiological science and the engineering of biological systems.
While the key outcome of this initiative will be primary biomolecular data (genomes, metabolites and proteins) to enable the identification, knowledge and utilisation of Australian native fungi, this initiative is anticipated to provide the building blocks and collaborative opportunities for innovation across a range of sectors and industries including health, environment, conservation and agri-food. The generation of open access ‘omics data will enable insight into the unique functions of native fungi that may provide new avenues for emerging industries and applications, for example, diagnostic development of human fungal pathogens, bioactive compound investigations, native foods, biomaterial engineering, ecosystem management and conservation, land restoration, waste management and circular economies.
Through this program of research, the creation of referential multi- ‘omics data resources of Australian native fungi will:
- Fast-track fundamental research in native Australian fungi, including resolving taxonomy and supporting investigations in plant associations including ecosystem function discovery, land regeneration, ecosystem resilience, biodiversity conservation.
- Accelerate foundational biological discovery including identification of unique pathways, compounds or enzymes in Australian native fungi.
- Support industry translation to leverage the potential of native fungi including food, medicinal, biomaterials and circular economy.