Breaking down barriers: comprehensive functional analysis of the Aspergillus niger chitin synthase repertoire

Lars Barthel, Timothy Cairns, Sven Duda, Henri Müller, Birgit Dobbert, Sascha Jung, Heiko Briesen, Vera Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Members of the fungal kingdom are heterotrophic eukaryotes encased in a chitin containing cell wall. This polymer is vital for cell wall stiffness and, ultimately, cell shape. Most fungal genomes contain numerous putative chitin synthase encoding genes. However, systematic functional analysis of the full chitin synthase catalogue in a given species is rare. This greatly limits fundamental understanding and potential applications of manipulating chitin synthesis across the fungal kingdom. Results: In this study, we conducted in silico profiling and subsequently deleted all predicted chitin synthase encoding genes in the multipurpose cell factory Aspergillus niger. Phylogenetic analysis suggested nine chitin synthases evolved as three distinct groups. Transcript profiling and co-expression network construction revealed remarkably independent expression, strongly supporting specific role(s) for the respective chitin synthases. Deletion mutants confirmed all genes were dispensable for germination, yet impacted colony spore titres, chitin content at hyphal septa, and internal architecture of submerged fungal pellets. We were also able to assign specific roles to individual chitin synthases, including those impacting colony radial growth rates (ChsE, ChsF), lateral cell wall chitin content (CsmA), chemical genetic interactions with a secreted antifungal protein (CsmA, CsmB, ChsE, ChsF), resistance to therapeutics (ChsE), and those that modulated pellet diameter in liquid culture (ChsA, ChsB). From an applied perspective, we show chsF deletion increases total protein in culture supernatant over threefold compared to the control strain, indicating engineering filamentous fungal chitin content is a high priority yet underexplored strategy for strain optimization. Conclusion: This study has conducted extensive analysis for the full chitin synthase encoding gene repertoire of A. niger. For the first time we reveal both redundant and non-redundant functional roles of chitin synthases in this fungus. Our data shed light on the complex, multifaceted, and dynamic role of chitin in fungal growth, morphology, survival, and secretion, thus improving fundamental understanding and opening new avenues for biotechnological applications in fungi.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalFungal Biology and Biotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Aspergillus niger
  • Biotechnology
  • Cell wall
  • Chitin
  • Macromorphology
  • Pellet
  • Protein secretion
  • µCT


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