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The phytopathogenic fugus Ustilago maydis is an interesting molecular model system to study biochemical and cell biological aspects of fungal pathogenicity. U. maydis is easy to handle and genetically tractable. This allows the detailed analysis of basic biological functions. In our group, we are interested in understanding (1) the molecular organization of polarized growth, (2) the regulation and catalytic abilities of secondary metabolism and (3) the biogenesis and metabolic function of peroxisomes.
Peroxisomes are involved in the degradation of long chain fatty acids and occur in all eukaryotes. We could recently demonstrate that fungal peroxisomes display an extended metabolism. This results from the unexpected peroxisomal localization of glycolytic enzymes that normally reside in the cytoplasm. Based on the elucidation of the peroxisomal import mechanisms of these proteins we aim at the construction of artificial peroxisomes. These can be used as place to accumulate proteins, to synthesize polymers and to produce toxic metabolites. By creation of an orthogonal import system, the peroxisomes can be supplied with novel proteins and metabolic capabilities. Since peroxisomes are separated from the cytoplasm by a lipid membrane they can be regarded as distinct reaction volume. This will be used to accumulate proteins in high concentrations. This occurs already in nature where some proteins form visible crystals inside of peroxisomes.