The way in which a common fungus 'makes its living in the soil' has been understood by scientists. This could lead to its possible 'career change' as a therapeutic agent for plant and human health.
The finding is based on a study of Trichoderma virens.
It was conducted by Charles Kenerley, Texas AgriLife Research plant pathologist, and a team of scientists from the U.S., India and France.
T. virens already enjoy a good reputation in the plant world. The fungi are found throughout the world in all types of soil, Kenerley said.
"We started working with this organism because it has what we would call biological control activity. They are used either as seed treatment, as a foliar spray, or in the mixtures of potting soil at nurseries (to help control disease)," he added.
Now, Kenerley has revealed that T. virens also produce antibiotics and short chains of amino acids called peptaibols.
Amino acids - because they string together to form protein - are like the cinder blocks of all living things.
In this study, the researchers found two classes of peptaibols that contain more than 70 components that had never been described.
"There's probably an ecological reason the fungus produces a diversity of these compounds. I'm sure it has to do with survival in the soil, and its interaction with other organisms and plant roots," Kenerley said.
The scientist said once researchers understand how the peptaibols are produced by the fungus, the fungus could be potentially modified to produce only the part needed for a specific use.
While Kenerley's team is considering agricultural uses for the peptaibols, others are considering pharmaceutical uses for treating tumors in humans or perhaps their ability to work against harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses, he said.
The study appeared in February's Journal of Biological Chemistry.