GREAT AT SMALL THINGS

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BCCM/IHEM Fungi Collection: Human & Animal Health

 

 

BCCM/IHEM is a fungal culture collection specialising in medical and veterinary isolates. We have almost 15000 isolates available from all over the world: yeasts and filamentous fungi, pathogens and allergenic or toxic species, reference strains and teaching material. All fungi related to environment, agriculture, industry or food are maintained by BCCM/MUCL.

 

Embedding

BCCM/IHEM is embedded in the Mycology and Aerobiology section of Sciensano in Brussels.

In 1980, a culture collection of medically interesting fungal strains was initiated within the Mycology Laboratory of the Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (IHE), located in Brussels. Its detailed history can be found here. Though the culture collection kept its acronym BCCM/IHEM, the host institute IHE evolved to become Sciensano. The host lab became the Section of Mycology and Aerobiology and consists of four units:

  • the BCCM/IHEM fungi collection: human & animal health
  • the Medical Mycology unit
  • the Aerobiology unit
  • the Indoor Mycology unit

 

Scope of the biological material

BCCM/IHEM is a collection of yeasts and moulds of medical and veterinary interest. It gathers almost 15000 strains representing more than 350 genera and 1200 species of Ascomycetes, Basidiomycetes and Zygomycetes. The majority are human and animal pathogens, allergenic strains, mycotoxin producing species or various contaminants, isolated from clinical cases or from the human environment in general.

More specifically, fungal strains of the BCCM/IHEM collection are:

  • Species known to cause diseases and isolated from human or animal patients or their environment
  • New species described in the literature and presenting (potential) health risks
  • Pathogens reported in case studies
  • Known or probable allergenic strains isolated from the indoor and outdoor human environments
  • Strains displaying exceptional characteristics (e.g. aberrant morphology, resistance towards antifungal drugs)
  • Species producing mycotoxins (notably in food and indoor environments)
  • Contaminants of the human and animal environment (e.g. from food, end products, indoor facilities, materials)

The BCCM/IHEM collection accepts pathogens up to the class of risk 3.

The BCCM/IHEM collection has incorporated the entire collection of Raymond Vanbreuseghem (RV-collection) which was formerly housed at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (Antwerp) and includes numerous rare isolates from tropical regions.

Another interesting addition was the fungal collection from Janssen Pharmaceutica which has been integrated in the public BCCM/IHEM collection.

 

Quality

Besides its ISO 9001:2015 certification, the BCCM/IHEM collection is also ISO 17025 accredited for its quality controls, namely the verification of the viability, identity and purity of its strains after preservation. A sample of each batch is analysed after freeze-drying or cryopreservation in order to assess these parameters.

The collection is also ISO 14001 certified for its environmental policy. This certification involves that the collection is committed to a sustainable management of its activities. The latter includes waste reduction, energy saving, the compliance with and follow-up of the regulation, the analysis, surveillance and reduction of its environmental impact.

 

BCCM collections in the genomic era

In April 2020, BCCM started “BCCM GEN-ERA”, a 2-year project merging microbial biology and computing sciences. Financed by the Belgian Science Policy (Belspo), the project is entitled “BCCM collections in the genomic era” and aims at implementing genomic analyses tools in the BCCM collections, allowing increased knowledge of their patrimony. It is a partnership between the collections and the Eukaryotic Phylogenomics laboratory of Prof. Denis Baurain at the University of Liège.

 

Context & general objectives

Prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms play a major role in ecosystems and human activities. Research in microbiology, fundamental or applied, is therefore essential. Culture collections actively participate in this research by analyzing their biological resources or by making them available to the scientific community. Technological advances allow to unravel in an easier and faster way the secrets of the microorganisms. Among these technologies, sequencing and functional analysis of their genome offer remarkable perspectives.

Implementation of genomics tools in BCCM collections will be achieved through specific research questions on their microbial resources, resulting in a greater valorization of this biological material while enabling future investigations on species and strains of interest. The methodology is based on the acquisition, annotation and analysis of genomic sequences from various bacteria, mycobacteria, cyanobacteria, yeasts and moulds.

 

Research questions and impact

Genome-based microbial taxonomy is offering a new approach to delineate species and improve classification, allowing many developments in molecular taxonomy and evolutionary processes. The project will also bring modern state-of-the-art methodologies to analyze the gene repertoire of strains in order to better understand their metabolism. More specifically, the project will contribute to:

  1. characterize the functional potential of the major bumblebee bacterial endosymbionts,
  2. unravel the evolutionary relationships among species of mycobacteria and give insight into their interactions with host immune cells,
  3. decipher the phylogeny and taxonomy of cyanobacteria and detect genomic signatures of adaptations to extreme environments and production of bioactive compounds,
  4. study yeasts associated with bee guts and the functional interactions with their host,
  5. improve the taxonomy of the most common fungal pathogens responsible for skin mycoses, facilitate their identification and improving their epidemiology.

These research questions and the investigated microorganisms were thus especially selected for their added value for science and the society. Targeted species and strains include human and animal pathogens, microorganisms associated with pollinating insects as well as microbial strains producing bioactive compounds or adapted to extreme environments. Expected results will provide new insights into microsymbiont roles and interactions with their hosts, virulence factors, gene function prediction, species evolution and delineation, genetic markers for identification, etc.

 

Valorization

All the outputs of the project will be managed according to the FAIR principles. Besides the publication of research results in scientific journals, investigated strains will be deposited in the public catalogue of the BCCM collections. Moreover, bioinformatics pipelines as well as the genome sequences will be publicly available in dedicated repositories. The maintenance of a long-term expertise in the use of these data and pipelines by the BCCM scientists is also foreseen through trainings.

For more information, you can follow the LinkedIn page of the project:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/37512508

A project by Uchrony