Endophytic fungi from the forests of Poland are yielding up a treasure trove of compounds that could revolutionize the pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries, according to AMI member Dr El-Sayed R El-Sayed.

Based at Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences within the activities of the BioActiv LRG led by Professor Filip Boratyński, the BioExplor project is exploring the untapped potential of endophytic fungi, leading to discoveries that span potential new antibiotics and the production of natural pigments. 

PI- Dr. El-Sayed (1)

Visiting professor Dr. El-Sayed R. El-Sayed, who is an Associate Professor at the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (Cairo, Egypt) and is an Associate Editor of Applied Microbiology International’s new journal Sustainable Microbiology (AMI), explains what spurred him to set up the BioExplor project.

Pressing challenges

He says the project’s findings highlight the vast potential of endophytic fungi in addressing some of today’s most pressing challenges, from health to sustainability, and its success not only sheds light on the untapped capabilities of fungal species but also sets the stage for further exploration and application of these remarkable organisms.  


“Coming from Egypt, where most areas are cultivated, we don’t see forests like these. In Egypt, the landscape is predominantly agricultural,” he says. 

“But here, the nature is wild, untouched. It’s a striking contrast to what I’m used to. This is how the idea for the BioExplor project came to me. Countless endophytic fungi live inside plants of European forests, just waiting to be discovered.”

Mokrzański Forest

The team began by isolating several unique endophytic fungi from plants growing in the Mokrzański Forest, located near Wrocław. These fungi, which live symbiotically inside plant tissues, were isolated and cultivated to produce compounds, which were then assessed for their bioactive potential. 

This endeavor, in collaboration with a team from the Wrocław Medical University, has unveiled promising candidates with antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant and anticancer properties. Such discoveries are not just academic; they offer tangible pathways for developing new drugs to combat various diseases, including cancer and microbial infections. 

Endophytic fungi

Some of the endophytic fungi that have been isolated.

Together with a team from the University of Łódź, the scientists have also evaluated the extracts for their potential therapeutic effects, particularly focusing on their anti-enzymatic activities. The enzymes targeted include monoamine oxidases and cholinesterases, primarily found in the brain as well as the insulin resistance receptor. 

Hope for Alzheimer’s

“We are studying their ability to inhibit these enzymes, as their uncontrolled levels in the human body can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Additionally, monoamine oxidase inhibition has antidepressant properties,” Dr. El-Sayed says. 

“The goal now is to identify the compounds within these extracts responsible for such activities, which could then be advanced to clinical investigations. Furthermore, the extract has been evaluated for its anti-diabetic properties and has shown promising results.”


The BioExplor team

The BioExplor project’s scope extends beyond medical applications, venturing into the realm of industrial biotechnology. The team has identified fungi with the capability to produce beta-carotene and melanin, compounds of significant industrial interest due to their applications in food, cosmetics, and beyond. 

Black gold

“We isolated a new fungus that produces melanin. I call it black gold because it has a high industrial interest,” Dr El-Sayed says. 

“Generally, extracting melanin from natural sources is complicated and costly. Our fungus can produce melanin in considerable amounts extracellularly - outside its cells - which represents a simple and very easy biofactory of natural melanin.”

Fungus (left)-Melanin powder (right)

The fungus, left, and the melanin powder it produces, right

He adds that the production of this pigment through fungal biotechnology not only promises a cost-effective alternative to traditional methods but also aligns with sustainable practices by potentially utilizing agro-industrial waste as a growth medium. This approach offers an eco-friendly solution to industrial production challenges and contributes to the circular economy, aligning with European Union goals. 

Red bread

Among the achievements of the BioExplor project has been the development of a mutant strain of Monascus fungus with enhanced productivity of red pigment, a compound with wide-ranging applications in the food industry. This fungus already produces orange, yellow and red pigments, but by applying gamma radiation, scientists have enhanced the fungus’s ability to produce an intensely red pigment, presenting an innovative method for improving industrial processes. 

Red pigment

The red pigment that has been isolated

The BioExplor team is now developing a product that could be attractive to consumers: red bread. The purified red pigment from the fungus will be used as a food colorant for bread. 

“I would like to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to Prof. Amr El-Hag Ali, Chairman of the Board of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority for his continuous support,” adds Dr. El-Sayed.  

Nano-based products

The project has also embarked on the use of nanotechnology to improve the properties of fungal pigments. 

“In collaboration with a team from the UPWr Department of Biophysics and the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority, we are developing novel nano-based products from these pigments. These innovations could lead to more effective, stable, and enhanced functionality pigments for various industries. By using such innovative technologies, the pigment could be entirely modified and gain enhanced functional properties,” says Dr. El-Sayed.   

With plans to continue this research beyond the project’s current timeline, Dr. El-Sayed wants to delve deeper into such endophytic fungal communities, unlocking new possibilities from untapped forest plant-associated mycobiomes in Europe. 

“The BioExplor project highlights the high value of investment in such scientific projects thanks to the Polish National Science Center (Polonez Bis Program) and the European Union co-funding of the project,” he says.

To find out more about BioExplor, click HERE.