New drugs from fungi

HZI researchers traveled to Yaoundé, Cameroon, for a workshop on the collection, culture and identification of fungal strains. A new research hub will strengthen natural product research in fungi in the country.

In 2021, the Alexander von Humboldt-(AvH) Foundation has started a new initiative to strengthen the research activities in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative intends to help to deal with the current COVID-19 pandemic and to develop strategies to solve future crises.

Only one of the six projects that were funded by the AvH and the Bayer Foundation deals with the discovery of novel anti-infective drugs: the CEntre of Competence for the study of Antimicrobial NAtural PROducts from Fungi (CECANAPROF). In this project, which is scheduled for five years, researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig are closely collaborating with Cameroonian scientists for the sake of capacity building in mycology and natural product-based drug discovery. Prof Simeon Fogue Kouam from the Université de Yaoundé I, Cameroon, heads the AvH research hub and partners with Prof Marc Stadler, head of the department “Microbial Drugs” at HZI.

Cameroonian scientists have an excellent track record in natural product chemistry, but have so far focused mostly on plants as sources for novel molecules. African medicinal plants have already been studied exhaustively and chances are slim that innovative molecules can still be discovered from them. Past attempts to extend the research activities to endophytic fungi have been hampered by the lack of relevant expertise in mycology and microbiology. CECANAPROF aims to close this gap.

In early April 2022, the project started with a kick-off workshop at the University of Yaoundé I, in which young scientists from Cameroon were trained in the salient techniques to deal with fungi as important, prolific producers of antimicrobials and other beneficial natural products. The program included lectures on mycological taxonomy and fungal secondary metabolites, field trips, as well as a training course on methods that are useful to isolate and identify various kinds of fungi and preserve and maintain their cultures.

The research hub CECANAPROF will set the focus on the study of coprophilous fungi, which grow on animal dung. This group of fungi is also the topic of a DFG-funded project “COPFUN” of Dr Yasmina Marin-Felix, postdoctoral researcher in the HZI department “Microbial Drugs”. Marin-Felix has been in charge of the training program along with the Cameroonian expert mycologist, Prof André-Ledoux Njouonkou from the University of Bamenda.

In the next years, additional joint workshops and mutual visits are planned. The final goal will be the establishment of a fungal culture collection in Cameroon, along with well-trained young scientists who can explore fungal biodiversity of their home country in a sustainable manner.

Author: Marc Stadler
Published: May 2022

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