A fungus that removes pollution

Antoine Fayeulle is a senior lec­tur­er in micro­bi­ol­o­gy and a research sci­en­tist at the URC-TIMR Lab­o­ra­to­ry. In par­tic­u­lar, he is con­duct­ing research into the prop­er­ties of a fun­gus capa­ble of ‘digest­ing’ hydro­car­bons that have accu­mu­lat­ed over the years in soils. The cham­pi­on of decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion is Talaromyces helicus.

He owes his pas­sion for fun­gi to teach­ers at the Uni­ver­sité du Lit­toral Côte d’Opale (ULCO) where he stud­ied. «ULCO research sci­en­tists realised that the fun­gi that degrad­ed wood lignin were no longer very effec­tive with heavy PAHs (Poly­cyclic Aro­mat­ic Hydro­car­bons, viz., a class of organ­ic com­pounds) when inoc­u­lat­ed into soils. So I became inter­est­ed in tel­luric fun­gi in my sec­ond year of under­grad­u­ate stud­ies, dur­ing which I did a vol­un­tary work place­ment with them», he says.

It was a pas­sion that nev­er left him, wit­ness the fact that as soon he obtained his engi­neer­ing degree from ESBS (spe­cial­ty biotech­nolo­gies) in Stras­bourg, he under­took a joint the­sis, between ULCO and the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich. His the­sis was devot­ed to biore­me­di­a­tion. In oth­er words, how to use micro-organ­isms to degrade xeno­bi­otics, or mol­e­cules of human ori­gin that have an impact on the envi­ron­ment, such as med­i­cines, cos­met­ics, pes­ti­cides and petro­le­um deriv­a­tives. «At ULCO, the researchers were work­ing on fun­gi, but only in the lab­o­ra­to­ry, where­as the Ger­man team spe­cialised in biore­me­di­a­tion using bac­te­ria, car­ry­ing out exper­i­ments direct­ly in the soil. Thus, dur­ing my the­sis I became inter­est­ed in “mycore­me­di­a­tion”, par­tic­u­lar­ly in soils,» he recounts.

This led him to work on the prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with organ­ic mol­e­cules and poly­cyclic aro­mat­ic hydro­car­bons (PAHs). These are nat­ur­al con­stituents of oil and coal. Antoine Fayeulle has made mycol­o­gy his field of research for a good cause: safe­guard­ing the envi­ron­ment. «Fun­gi are known to be bet­ter at degrad­ing heavy PAHs than bac­te­ria. In fact, fun­gi can degrade com­plex mol­e­cules — with more than four aro­mat­ic cycles, which is the case for heavy PAHs — where­as bac­te­ria are only effec­tive with mol­e­cules with one, two or three cycles. So, in Nature, only fun­gi know how to degrade wood lignin», he explains.

When Antoine Fayeulle joined the UTC-TIMR lab­o­ra­to­ry in 2014, he brought with him new skills, as the laboratory’s work had until then focused main­ly on bac­te­ria. While extend­ing his areas of research to process­es oth­er than soil decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion, he nonethe­less retained this theme as a research focus. «That’s how we start­ed work­ing on bacteria/fungi com­mu­ni­ties, to get clos­er to what actu­al­ly hap­pens in Nature. And it was dur­ing dis­cus­sions with Anne Le Goff from UTC-BMBI, who uses microflu­idic sys­tems to study the defor­ma­tion of red blood cells, that the idea of a part­ner­ship took shape», he adds. This part­ner­ship led to a co-direct­ed the­sis with Anne Le Goff. «The aim was to under­stand how the fun­gus invades the micro­p­orosi­ties of the soil in order to gain access to the pol­lu­tants. Hence the idea of grow­ing mush­rooms in a microflu­idic sys­tem. We set up two cham­bers, one where we inoc­u­lat­ed the fun­gus, and anoth­er for the pol­lu­tant, which has the advan­tage of being flu­o­res­cent, the two being linked by microchan­nels. This set-up enabled us to see the cel­lu­lar incor­po­ra­tion mech­a­nisms of the pol­lu­tant, and Talaromyces heli­cus demon­strat­ed its full effec­tive­ness», con­cludes Antoine Fayeulle.

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

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