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Something old, something new: challenges and developments in Aspergillus niger biotechnology

Cairns, Timothy C.; Barthel, Lars; Meyer, Vera

FG Angewandte und Molekulare Mikrobiologie

The filamentous ascomycete fungus Aspergillus niger is a prolific secretor of organic acids, proteins, enzymes and secondary metabolites. Throughout the last century, biotechnologists have developed A. niger into a multipurpose cell factory with a product portfolio worth billions of dollars each year. Recent technological advances, from genome editing to other molecular and omics tools, promise to revolutionize our understanding of A. niger biology, ultimately to increase efficiency of existing industrial applications or even to make entirely new products. However, various challenges to this biotechnological vision, many several decades old, still limit applications of this fungus. These include an inability to tightly control A. niger growth for optimal productivity, and a lack of high-throughput cultivation conditions for mutant screening. In this mini-review, we summarize the current state-of-the-art for A. niger biotechnology with special focus on organic acids (citric acid, malic acid, gluconic acid and itaconic acid), secreted proteins and secondary metabolites, and discuss how new technological developments can be applied to comprehensively address a variety of old and persistent challenges.