Cranfield University reports that it is establishing a new fungal research center with £7.2 ($9.1) million in funding from Research England.
Fungi are among the most diverse kingdoms in all living organisms and have an estimated global monetary value of $54.57 trillion. Long used for food and medicine, only a small proportion of classified fungi species has been studied in detail and developed for industrial use—leaving an estimated three million species yet to be discovered and evaluated, according to fungal specialists. To date, research of fungi has centered on mitigating negative effects like disease, toxins, and food loss.
The Magan Center for Applied Mycology will examine the positive role fungi-derived technologies and applications could have in supporting the green economy and global net zero ambitions, notes Angel Medina-Vaya, PhD, director of environment and agrifood at Cranfield University and principal investigator of the project.
“Untapped Kingdom” with transformative potential
With over 35 years of research expertise in fungi, particularly in food storage and safety, Cranfield will extend its work into other areas where fungi could have a profound impact, continued Medina-Vaya, adding that this will involve interdisciplinary research into applications such as renewable energy, biofuels, construction materials, packaging, robotic parts and fuel cells.
“Fungi is an untapped kingdom with the potential to transform our world,” says Medina-Vaya. “It’s not exaggerating to say that fungi can have a truly pivotal role in helping us reach global net zero ambitions. Imagine creating self-healing electrical components, fueling an aircraft with fungi-derived biofuel, or building a house with fungal insulation. All of these and more are possible. This new and unique research center will pioneer many of these new applications and technologies.”
Cranfield will be collaborating with organizations around the world that hold large collections of fungi to advance the research, including the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the U.K., the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute in the Netherlands, and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute in South Africa.
The new funding is boosted by a contribution from the University to create a £10 ($12.7) million center of excellence. It will support five academic posts, five post doctorate roles, and several technical staff, as well as upgrading Cranfield’s specialist lab facilities.
“The interdisciplinary nature of this new research center along with Cranfield’s world-renowned and long-standing expertise in mycology makes this a really exciting prospect,” said Leon A. Terry, PhD, pro-vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Cranfield University. “We look forward to working with partners and industry to develop some of the most novel and innovative technologies in this space.”
The new center is named after Naresh Magan, PhD, who died last April. Naresh established the Applied Mycology research group at Cranfield, working at the university for 37 years.