Schizophyllum commune has been the subject of genetic analysis since the early twentieth century, when Kniep first described its tetrapolar pattern of sexuality. It has been utilized as a model system for studying mating-type gene function and mushroom development. In addition, the biochemistry and enzymology of the cell walls of S. commune has been a long-term focus of research. It belongs to the group of gilled mushrooms that includes the commercially valuable species Agaricus bisporus (white button mushroom) and Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom). The worldwide market for these and other mushrooms for use as food, as dietary supplements and nutriceuticals, and in medicine was estimated to be over US $13 billion per year in 1995. Mushrooms from many of these fungi are also the source of important medicinal compounds with activities against tumors, viruses, and other microbes.
S. commune is a ubiquitous white rot fungus with a worldwide distribution that can degrade complex plant biomass, including lignin. In DOE's vision of the biorefinery, plant cell wall material is degraded into simple sugars, which are subsequently fermented into useful products such as organic acids. These compounds can be further converted by enzymes or catalysts into industrially useful chemicals. In order for S. commune or other white rot fungi to degrade complex biomass, a large repertoire of enzymes must be encoded by the organism. The genome of S. commune has yielded an interesting catalog of secreted enzymes that play a role in ligno-cellulose degradation.
S. commune also shows promise for the bioremediation of uranium and rare earth elements. High concentrations of uranium and rare earth elements in mine seepage water were significantly reduced by incubation with S. commune. S. commune has also been shown to take up and concentrate cadmium from the environment. Taken together, these studies show that the bioremediation potential of S. commune has a strong connection to the DOE mission in environmental management. A genome sequence, combined with already established molecular techniques, would make S. commune an ideal model organism for additional studies in metal uptake by fungi.