More effective than common detergents: previously unknown surfactant discovered in fungi

Highly effective and natural mushroom surfactants

Every German citizen uses around eight kilograms of detergent a year. Many ingredients have to be manufactured chemically and pollute the environment. A German research group has now discovered a previously unknown and natural detergent substance that is produced by certain fungi. The surfactant was surprisingly effective in the first tests and exceeded the effectiveness of common detergents.

Researchers at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena discovered a highly effective surfactant in the fungus Mortierella alpina, which belongs to the yoke fungi (zygomycetes). The team recently presented its discovery of the hitherto unknown natural substance in the journal “Organic Letters”.

Discovered by accident: natural super surfactant

The fungus Mortierella alpina, which lives in the ground, likes it rather cool and occurs in alpine or arctic regions. Mortierella alpina is not unknown in the food industry. Long-chain fatty acids such as arachidonic acid can be obtained from the fungus and are used as a food supplement in foods such as baby food. When researcher Florian Baldeweg tried to chemically purify small peptides from the fungus, he discovered the detergent effect. "Even the smallest amounts form a veritable foam crown on the sample container," reports the doctoral student in pharmacy.

Stronger surfactant than common detergents

A research team led by Dr. Markus Greßler clarified the structure of the peptides after this discovery. So-called malpinins are responsible for the detergent effect. In initial tests, these natural surfactants showed a stronger washing power than sodium lauryl sulfate (SDS), which is contained in many common detergents and has to be manufactured chemically.

More than a new detergent

The researchers see the natural surfactant as more than just a new detergent. "We want to test the malpinins, whether their properties can be useful in pharmacology," explains Dr. Greßler. Because the peptides discovered could also be suitable for the production of biological membranes. For example, certain active ingredients from medicines could be passed through a membrane, which consists largely of fats. The team at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena now intends to pursue this in further studies.

A new reservoir of natural products

So far, lower mushrooms like yoke mushrooms have not played a major role as producers of secondary natural products. However, this could change fundamentally due to the current research work. "Genetic studies on the genetic make-up of Mortierella alpina have shown that the fungus can produce many more natural substances," emphasizes the study leader. The Malpinine are just a small group of them. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


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