The study of fungal biotechnology is proceeding at an unprecedented rate with an array of new tools to generate a wealth of disciplines and subdisciplines. By means of modern biotechnology, fungi have justified their practical application to varied domains of human enterprise, and thus promise considerable potential in the agricultural, food, and environmental spheres. The successful application of fungal biotechnological processes in these areas requires the integration of a number of scientific disciplines and technologies. These may include subjects as diverse as agronomy, chemistry, genetic manipulation, and process engineering. The practical use of newer techniques such as genetic recombination, bioinformatics, and robotics has revolutionized modern biotechnology-based agri-food industries, and created the enormous range of possible applications of fungi.

Tremendous biodiversity of agriculturally important fungi exists—the benefit of which is not fully harnessed. The level of technology required to take full advantage may range from the simple introduction of a single fungus in biocontrol processes to the extensive manipulation of the organism that facilitates overproduction of a particular enzyme or metabolite. In modern agri-industry, fungi offer many established beneficial roles, particularly as biofertilizers, mycorrhizae, and biocontrol agents of pathogens, pests, and weeds. As pathogens, fungi represent a heavy negative impact on human health, agriculture, and environment. In agriculture, annual crop losses by phytopathogenic fungi in the field and also during post-harvest exceed 200 billion Euros, and in the United States alone, over $600 million are spent annually on agricultural fungicides. The balance of beneficial and detrimental effects is reflected in many other areas of agriculture and horticulture. Fungi that inhabit tropical or temperate soils, as mycorrhiza, endophytes, phytopathogens, entomopathogens, or simple saprophytes, are significant resources in transformation of biological matter, and they offer many bioproducts including secondary metabolites, antibiotics, and catabolic enzymes of enormous potential.

The world has won a crucial battle in the area of food security, but the war is still on. A total of 800 million people—that is, one of every six persons in the developing world—do not have access to food. One-third of all pre-school-age children in the developing countries face food insecurity. In the food and feed arena, fungi are historically important as mushrooms and fermented foods and in baking and brewing. Such roles are supplemented by the provision of fungi to offer food processing enzymes and additives, and more recently the development of protein-based foodstuffs from filamentous fungi. On the detrimental side, fungi cause extensive spoilage of stored and processed foodstuff. Through direct pathogenesis and biodeterioration of foods and other agricultural commodities, fungi cause considerable economic consequences as well. In these cases, techniques developed from biochemistry and molecular biology can be deployed to analyze the relevant processes, and to evolve tools for the detection, characterization, and tracking of the organisms involved. Although such endeavors may seem rather far removed from the traditional definition of fungal biotechnology, the information derived can be pivotal in understanding the underlying intricate processes, and arriving at suitable control measures.

The utilization of fungi in the environment is a more recent development, and can have particular association with both food and agriculture, with fungal remediation of land having implications for biofertilizers, mycorrhizae, and food crop development, among many other considerations. The degradative activities of fungi have also been harnessed in programs related to bioremediation of contaminated land, treatment of industrial wastes, and biotransformation of specific compounds. Many of the applications of fungal biotechnology in these areas rely not on identifying new activities but in harnessing and expanding roles that the fungi undertake normally in the environment.

Several books on the role of fungi in agricultural, food, and environmental applications have appeared since the 1990s. However, subjects relating to these areas are so broad that no single book can provide all the available information. Consequently, this book complements the others by providing valuable information that is not available elsewhere. The book encompasses a broad range of information on biotechnological potential of entomopathogenic fungi, ergot alkaloids, fungi in disease control, the development of mycoherbicides, control of nematodes, control of plant disease, strategies for controlling vegetable and fruit crops, mycotoxigenic fungi, development of biofungicides, production of edible fungi, fermented foods, and high-value products such as mycoprotein, yeasts in the wine industry, the role of fungi in the dairy industry, molecular detection of fungi in food and feeds, antifungal food additives, the importance of fungi in forest and arid ecosystems, the role of fungi in the biomineralization of heavy metals, bioconversion of distillery waste, decoloration of industrial waste, and fungal degradation of cellulose, hydrocarbons, dye water, and explosives.

Together with its companion publication, the Handbook of Fungal Biotechnology, Second Edition (Marcel Dekker, 2004), this incomparable book reigns as the top source on the role of fungi in agriculture, food technology, and environmental applications. The book will be useful for teachers and students, in both undergraduate and graduate studies, in departments of agricultural microbiology, food science, food technology, food engineering, microbiology, environmental sciences, botany, bioengineering, plant pathology, mycology, and, of course, biotechnology. In addition, the book will be useful for agri-food producers, research establishments, and government and academic units.

No work of this magnitude can be accomplished without the support and contributions of many individuals. I am deeply indebted to my colleagues and associate editors who have assisted me throughout the production of this book. I appreciate the hard work of authors for their up-to-date discussions on various topics and immense persistent cooperation. My gratitude is expressed to my teacher J. L. Lockwood. I thank Ms. Sandra Beberman (Vice President) and Ms. Dana Bigelow (Production Editor) at Marcel Dekker, Inc., for their dedicated assistance and advice in editorial structuring at all stages of the production of this book.

Dilip K. Arora

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