Method For Producing An Antifungal Peptide In A Filamentous Fungal Host Cell

TITLE: METHOD FOR PRODUCING AN ANTIFUNGAL PEPTIDE IN A FILAMENTOUS FUNGAL HOST CELL

Reference to sequence listing

This application contains a Sequence Listing in computer readable form. The computer readable form is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell and to an Aspergillus host cell suitable for producing antifungal peptides.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Filamentous fungi and in particular Aspergillus have been widely used for high yield expression of heterologous polypeptides. Production of polypeptides, which are detrimental to the host cell, however, poses a particular problem. Antimicrobial peptides (AMP's) are by nature detrimental to the growth of a wide range of microorganisms dependent on the particular class of AMP in question. One class of small AMP's is the defensins. Defensins are small highly basic cysteine-rich peptides that share a common three-dimensional structure (Thomma et al., (2002) Planta 216: 193-202). Some members of this class of defensins are known to have antifungal activity. These members include dromycin, termicin, and heliomy- cin. In some yeast like e.g. Pichia pastoris and Candida albicans it has been demonstrated that gcs-deletion mutants (glucosylceramide synthetase deficient) are resistant to RsAFP2 and heliomycin (Thevissen et al., (2004) Journal of Biological Chemistry 279 (6): 3900-3905). In another yeast like S. cerevisiae glucosylceramide has never been detected (Sakaki et al., (2001 ) Yeast 18: 679-695). In filamentous fungi little is known about the composition of the membrane and only in Neurospora crassa has mutants been identified which were resistant to antifungal plant defensins (Ferket et al., (2003) Fungal Genetics and Biology 40: 176-185). In this study analysis of the mutants revealed structurally different GlcCer and altered levels of GlcSte compared to the wild type. However, no conclusion could be made as to whether this change in membrane lipid composition in N. crassa mutants correlated to the observed resistance towards plant defensins. The authors speculated that the increased level of GlcSte in the membrane seemed to be linked to the increased resistance. Notably the obtained mutants grew very poorly. The presence of glucosylceramide in other filamentous fungi has been reported in Aspergillus fumigatus Boas et al., (1994) Chem. Phys. Lipids 70(1 ):1 1-9. It is desirable to isolate mutants of filamentous fungi, particularly Aspergillus mutants, which can be used as efficient producers of antifungal peptides, particularly antifungal defensins.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION The invention provides in a first aspect a method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell, comprising expressing the antifungal peptide in the host cell, wherein an endogenous glucosyl ceramide synthase activity (EC 2.4.1.80) in the filamentous fungal host has been completely or partially inactivated compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

In a second aspect the invention relates to a method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell, comprising expressing the antifungal peptide in the host cell, wherein an endogenous activity encoded by: (a) the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (b) a nucleotide sequence having at least 45% identity to SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (c) a nucleotide sequence which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (d) a nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide having an amino acid sequence which has at least 50% identity with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2, is eliminated or reduced with more than about 60%, preferably more than about 85%, more preferably more than about 90%, and most preferably more than about 95% compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

In a third aspect the invention relates to an Aspergillus host cell, wherein an endogenous activity has been completely or partially inactivated, and wherein the endogenous activity is encoded by: (a) the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (b) a nucleotide sequence having at least 60% identity to SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (c) a nucleotide sequence which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (d) a nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide having an amino acid sequence which has at least 70% identity with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2.

DEFINITIONS

Antimicrobial activity: The term "antimicrobial activity" is defined herein as an activity which is capable of killing or inhibiting growth of microbial cells. In the context of the present invention the term "antimicrobial" is intended to mean that there is a bactericidal and/or a bacteriostatic and/or fungicidal and/or fungistatic effect and/or a virucidal effect, wherein the term "bactericidal" is to be understood as capable of killing bacterial cells. The term "bacteriostatic" is to be understood as capable of inhibiting bacterial growth, i.e. inhibiting growing bacterial cells. The term "fungicidal" is to be understood as capable of killing fungal cells. The term "fungistatic" is to be understood as capable of inhibiting fungal growth, i.e. inhibiting growing fungal cells. The term "virucidal" is to be understood as capable of inactivating virus. The term "microbial cells" denotes bacterial or fungal cells (including yeasts).

In the context of the present invention the term "inhibiting growth of microbial cells" is intended to mean that the cells are in the non-growing state, i.e., that they are not able to propagate. Particularly the antimicrobial activity relevant for the method according to the present invention is antifungal. Antifungal activity according to the invention comprises fungicidal and fungistatic activity.

For purposes of the present invention, antimicrobial activity including antifungal activity may be determined according to the procedure described by Lehrer et al., Journal of Immunological Methods, Vol. 137 (2) pp. 167-174 (1991 ). Defensins The defensins of the invention may be any antimicrobial peptide recognized by a person skilled in the art as belonging to the defensin class of antimicrobial peptides. To determine if an antimicrobial peptide is a defensin according to the invention, the amino acid sequence is preferably compared with the hidden markov model profiles (HMM profiles) of the well-known PFAM database (see Example 1 ). The defensins may belong to the alpha-defensin class, the beta-defensin class, the theta-defensin class, the insect defensin class, the plant defensin class, the fungal defensin class, the mussel defensin class, or other defensin classes wherein the amino acid sequence comprises 6 or 8 cysteines and are structurally similar to any of the before- mentioned defensin classes. The defensins may also be synthetic defensins sharing the characteristic features of any of the defensin classes. Not all defensins will be antifungal, and therefore the method of the invention will only be relevant in respect of the above defensins, which have antifungal activity. cDNA: The term "cDNA" is defined herein as a DNA molecule which can be prepared by reverse transcription from a mature, spliced, mRNA molecule obtained from a eu- karyotic cell. cDNA lacks intron sequences that are usually present in the corresponding genomic DNA. The initial, primary RNA transcript is a precursor to mRNA which is processed through a series of steps before appearing as mature spliced mRNA. These steps include the removal of intron sequences by a process called splicing. cDNA derived from mRNA lacks, therefore, any intron sequences. Nucleic acid construct: The term "nucleic acid construct" as used herein refers to a nucleic acid molecule, either single- or double-stranded, which is isolated from a naturally occurring gene or which is modified to contain segments of nucleic acids in a manner that would not otherwise exist in nature. The term nucleic acid construct is synonymous with the term "expression cassette" when the nucleic acid construct contains the control sequences required for expression of a coding sequence of the present invention.

Control sequence: The term "control sequences" is defined herein to include all components, which are necessary or advantageous for the expression of a polynucleotide encoding a polypeptide of the present invention. Each control sequence may be native or foreign to the nucleotide sequence encoding the polypeptide. Such control sequences include, but are not limited to, a leader, polyadenylation sequence, propeptide sequence, promoter, signal peptide sequence, and transcription terminator. At a minimum, the control se- quences include a promoter, and transcriptional and translational stop signals. The control sequences may be provided with linkers for the purpose of introducing specific restriction sites facilitating ligation of the control sequences with the coding region of the nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide.

Operably linked: The term "operably linked" denotes herein a configuration in which a control sequence is placed at an appropriate position relative to the coding sequence of the polynucleotide sequence such that the control sequence directs the expression of the coding sequence of a polypeptide.

Coding sequence: When used herein the term "coding sequence" means a nucleotide sequence, which directly specifies the amino acid sequence of its protein product. The boundaries of the coding sequence are generally determined by an open reading frame, which usually begins with the ATG start codon or alternative start codons such as GTG and

TTG. The coding sequence may be a DNA, cDNA, or recombinant nucleotide sequence.

Expression: The term "expression" includes any step involved in the production of the polypeptide including, but not limited to, transcription, post-transcriptional modification, translation, post-translational modification, and secretion.

Expression vector: The term "expression vector" is defined herein as a linear or circular DNA molecule that comprises a polynucleotide encoding a defensin peptide, and which is operably linked to additional nucleotides that provide for its expression.

Host cell: The term "host cell", as used herein, includes any cell type which is sus- ceptible to transformation, transfection, transduction, and the like with a nucleic acid construct of the present invention.

Modification: The term "modification" means herein any chemical modification of the defensin. The modification(s) can be substitution(s), deletion(s) and/or insertions(s) of the amino acid(s) as well as replacement(s) of amino acid side chain(s); or use of unnatural amino acids with similar characteristics in the amino acid sequence. In particular the modification^) can be amidations, such as amidation of the C-terminus. Identity: The relatedness between two amino acid sequences or between two nucleotide sequences is described by the parameter "identity".

For purposes of the present invention, the alignment of two amino acid sequences is determined by using the Needle program from the EMBOSS package (http://emboss.org) version 2.8.0. The Needle program implements the global alignment algorithm described in Needleman, S. B. and Wunsch, C. D. (1970) J. MoI. Biol. 48, 443-453. The substitution matrix used is BLOSUM62, gap opening penalty is 10, and gap extension penalty is 0.5.

The degree of identity between an amino acid sequence of the present inven- tion ("invention sequence"); e.g. amino acids 1 to 517 of SEQ ID NO: 2 and a different amino acid sequence ("foreign sequence") is calculated as the number of exact matches in an alignment of the two sequences, divided by the length of the "invention sequence" or the length of the "foreign sequence", whichever is the shortest. The result is expressed in percent identity. An exact match occurs when the "invention sequence" and the "foreign sequence" have identical amino acid residues in the same positions of the overlap (in the alignment example below this is represented by "|"). The length of a sequence is the number of amino acid residues in the sequence (e.g. the length of SEQ ID NO:2 is 517).

In the purely hypothetical alignment example below, the overlap is the amino acid sequence "HTWGER-NL" of Sequence 1 ; or the amino acid sequence "HGWGEDANL" of Sequence 2. In the example a gap is indicated by a "-".

Hypothetical alignment example:

Sequence 1 : ACMSHTWGER-NL

I I I I I I

Sequence 2 : HGWGEDANLAMNPS

For purposes of the present invention, the degree of identity between two nucleotide sequences is determined by the Wilbur-Lipman method (Wilbur and Lipman, 1983, Proceed- ings of the National Academy of Science USA 80: 726-730) using the LASERGENE™ MEGALIGN™ software (DNASTAR, Inc., Madison, Wl) with an identity table and the following multiple alignment parameters: Gap penalty of 10 and gap length penalty of 10. Pairwise alignment parameters are Ktuple=3, gap penalty=3, and windows=20.

In a particular embodiment, the percentage of identity of an amino acid se- quence of a polypeptide with, or to, amino acids 1 to 517 of SEQ ID NO: 2 is determined by i) aligning the two amino acid sequences using the Needle program, with the BLOSUM62 substitution matrix, a gap opening penalty of 10, and a gap extension penalty of 0.5; ii) counting the number of exact matches in the alignment; iii) dividing the number of exact matches by the length of the shortest of the two amino acid sequences, and iv) converting the result of the division of iii) into percentage. The percentage of identity to, or with other sequences of the invention, is calculated in an analogous way.

For purposes of the present invention, the degree of identity between two nucleotide sequences is determined by the Wilbur-Lipman method (Wilbur and Lipman, 1983, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 80: 726-730) using the LASER- GENE™ MEGALIGN™ software (DNASTAR, Inc., Madison, Wl) with an identity table and the following multiple alignment parameters: Gap penalty of 10 and gap length penalty of 10. Pairwise alignment parameters are Ktuple=3, gap penalty=3, and windows=20.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION In the present invention it has been discovered that certain mutants of filamentous fungi can be used as host cells for the production of antifungal peptides. The present inventors have found that filamentous fungi, particularly belonging to the genus Aspergillus, when deleted for and endogenous gene having the nucleotide sequence as shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , which DNA sequence encodes the enzyme with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2, are capable of producing high amounts of antifungal defensins, such as e.g. the heliomy- cin derivative ETD-151.

In one embodiment according to the invention the host cell has a reduced expression or no expression of the polypeptide having the amino acid sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 2 or a functional homologue of SEQ ID NO: 2. Particularly the functional homologue is at least 50 % identical to SEQ ID NO: 2, particularly at least 60 % identical to SEQ ID NO: 2, more particularly at least 70 % identical to SEQ ID NO: 2, particularly at least 80 % identical to SEQ ID NO: 2, particularly at least 85% identical to SEQ ID NO: 2, particularly at least 90%, more particularly at least 95%, most particularly at least 98% identical to SEQ ID NO: 2.

In one embodiment the polynucleotide encoding the polypeptide of SEQ ID NO: 2 is the polynucleotide shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 or any other polynucleotide capable of encoding the polypeptide of SEQ ID NO: 2. The polynucleotide according to the invention could in an- other embodiment be a polynucleotide encoding a functional homologue of the polypeptide shown in SEQ ID NO: 2. In another embodiment of the invention the expression of the polypeptide shown in SEQ ID NO: 2 or a homologue thereof has been reduced or eliminated in the filamentous fungal host cell. The polynucleotide encoding the polypeptide may be at least 45 % identical to the polynucleotide having the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 1 , particularly at least 50 % identical, more particularly at least 60 % identical, particularly at least 65 % identical, more particularly at least 70 % identical, more particularly at least 75 % identical, more particularly at least 80 % identical, more particularly at least 85 % identical, even more particularly at least 90 % identical, most particularly at least 95 % identical.

In another embodiment the polypeptide having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID

NO: 2 or a functional homologue thereof is encoded by a polynucleotide which hybridizes under at least low stringency conditions with (i) nucleotides 1 to 1554 of SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (ii) a complementary strand of (i).

In another embodiment the polypeptide having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2 or a functional homologue thereof is encoded by a polynucleotide which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with (i) nucleotides 1 to 1554 of SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (ii) a complementary strand of (i).

In another embodiment the polypeptide having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2 or a functional homologue thereof is encoded by a polynucleotide which hybridizes under at least high stringency conditions with (i) nucleotides 1 to 1554 of SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (ii) a complementary strand of (i).

In another embodiment the polypeptide having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2 or a functional homologue thereof is encoded by a polynucleotide which hybridizes under very high stringency conditions with (i) nucleotides 1 to 1554 of SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (ii) a complementary strand of (i).

A functional homologue in the context of the present invention means a homologous polypeptide having the same activity, e.g. glucosylceramide synthetase activity. Gcs activity can be determined by an enzymatic assay as described in Marks et al., (2001 ) Journal of Biological Chemistry 276(28): 26492-26498. Alternatively presence of gcs activity can be determined by analysing the composition of the cell membrane as described in Leipelt et al., (2001 ) Journal of Biological Chemistry, 276 (36): 33621-33629.

In a particular embodiment the host cell is an Aspergillus host cell. The polypeptide according to the invention the expression of which should be reduced or inactivated may also be a functional homologue of the polypeptide having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2 identified in other filamentous fungal cells. Such func- tional homologues can be identified starting from the sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , e.g. by using SEQ ID NO: 1 or a fragment thereof, to design a nucleic acid probe to identify and clone DNA encoding polypeptides having gcs activity from strains of different genera or species according to methods well known in the art. In particular, such probes can be used for hybridization with the genomic or cDNA of the genus or species of interest, following standard Southern blotting procedures, in order to identify and isolate the corresponding gene therein. Such probes can be considerably shorter than the entire sequence, but should be at least 14, preferably at least 25, more preferably at least 35, and most preferably at least 70 nucleotides in length. It is, however, preferred that the nucleic acid probe is at least 100 nu- cleotides in length. For example, the nucleic acid probe may be at least 200 nucleotides, preferably at least 300 nucleotides, more preferably at least 400 nucleotides, or most preferably at least 500 nucleotides in length. Even longer probes may be used, e.g., nucleic acid probes which are at least 600 nucleotides, at least preferably at least 700 nucleotides, more preferably at least 800 nucleotides, or most preferably at least 900 nucleotides in length. Both DNA and RNA probes can be used. The probes are typically labelled for detecting the corresponding gene (for example, with 32P, 3H, 35S, biotin, or avidin).

A genomic DNA or cDNA library prepared from such other organisms may, therefore, be screened for DNA which hybridizes with the probes described above and which encodes a polypeptide having gcs activity. Genomic or other DNA from such other organisms may be separated by agarose or polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, or other separation techniques. DNA from the libraries or the separated DNA may be transferred to and immobilized on nitrocellulose or other suitable carrier material. In order to identify a clone or DNA which is homologous with SEQ ID NO: 1 or a subsequence thereof, the carrier material is used in a Southern blot.

For purposes of the present invention, hybridization indicates that the nucleotide sequence hybridizes to a labelled nucleic acid probe corresponding to the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , its complementary strand, or a subsequence thereof, under very low to very high stringency conditions. Molecules to which the nucleic acid probe hybridizes under these conditions can be detected using X-ray film.

For long probes of at least 100 nucleotides in length, very low to very high stringency conditions are defined as prehybridization and hybridization at 42°C in 5X SSPE, 0.3% SDS, 200 μg/ml sheared and denatured salmon sperm DNA, and either 25% formamide for very low and low stringencies, 35% formamide for medium and medium-high stringencies, or 50% formamide for high and very high stringencies, following standard Southern blotting proce- dures for 12 to 24 hours optimally. For long probes of at least 100 nucleotides in length, the carrier material is finally washed three times each for 15 minutes using 2X SSC, 0.2% SDS preferably at least at 45°C (very low stringency), more preferably at least at 500C (low stringency), more preferably at least at 55°C (medium stringency), more preferably at least at 600C (medium-high strin- gency), even more preferably at least at 65°C (high stringency), and most preferably at least at 700C (very high stringency).

In a particular embodiment, the wash is conducted using 0.2X SSC, 0.2% SDS preferably at least at 45°C (very low stringency), more preferably at least at 500C (low stringency), more preferably at least at 55°C (medium stringency), more preferably at least at 600C (medium-high stringency), even more preferably at least at 65°C (high stringency), and most preferably at least at 70°C (very high stringency). In another particular embodiment, the wash is conducted using 0.1X SSC, 0.2% SDS preferably at least at 45°C (very low stringency), more preferably at least at 500C (low stringency), more preferably at least at 55°C (medium stringency), more preferably at least at 600C (medium-high stringency), even more preferably at least at 65°C (high stringency), and most preferably at least at 70°C (very high stringency).

The skilled person will know how to introduce mutations in an identified gene e.g. by deleting part of or the complete coding sequence of the gene. Alternatively mutations can be introduced by random mutagenesis or site directed mutagenesis.

Relevant antifungal peptides according to the invention are all peptides that have the gcs gene product as target.

One particularly relevant group of peptides are defensins. Defensins are small highly basic cysteine-rich peptides that share a common three-dimensional structure (Thomma et al., (2002) Planta 216: 193-202). Some members of this class of defensins are known to have antifungal activity. These members include dromycin, termicin, and heliomycin. Examples of defensins include, but are not limited to, alpha-Defensin HNP-1 (human neutrophil peptide) HNP-2 and HNP-3; beta-Defensin-12, Drosomycin, Heliomicin, gammai- purothionin, Insect defensin A, and the defensins disclosed in PCT applications WO 99/53053 and WO 02/085934, which are hereby incorporated by reference.

Particularly the defensins relevant to the aspect of the present invention have in one embodiment antifungal activity in which case they may be difficult to express in a fungal expression system. In a particular embodiment the defensin is selected from the group consisting of heliomycin, drosomycin, termicin, HsAFP3, RsAFPI , RsAFP2 or derivatives thereof.

In another embodiment the defensin is a heliomycin derivative selected from the group consisting of ARD1 , ETD-135, ETD-151. A defensin may be obtained from microorganisms of any genus. For purposes of the present invention, the term "obtained from" as used herein in connection with a given source shall mean that the defensin encoded by a nucleotide sequence is produced by the source or by a strain in which the nucleotide sequence from the source has been inserted. In a preferred aspect, the defensin obtained from a given source is secreted extracellularly. A defensin may be a fungal defensin, and e.g. a yeast defensin such as a Candida,

Kluyveromyces, Pichia, Saccharomyces, Schizosaccharomyces, or Yarrowia defensin; or it may be a filamentous fungal defensin such as an Acremonium, Aspergillus, Aureobasidium, Cryptococcus, Filibasidium, Fusarium, Humicola, Magnaporthe, Mucor, Myceliophthora, Neo- callimastix, Neurospora, Paecilomyces, Penicillium, Piromyces, Schizophyllum, Talaromyces, Thermoascus, Thielavia, Tolypocladium, or Trichoderma defensin.

In another aspect, the defensin is a Saccharomyces carlsbergensis, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Saccharomyces diastaticus, Saccharomyces douglasii, Saccharomyces kluyveri, Saccharomyces norbensis, or Saccharomyces oviformis defensin having antimicrobial activity. In another aspect, the defensin is an Aspergillus aculeatus, Aspergillus awamori,

Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus foetidus, Aspergillus japonicus, Aspergillus nidulans, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus oryzae, Fusarium bactridioides, Fusarium cerealis, Fusarium crookwellense, Fusarium culmorum, Fusarium graminearum, Fusarium graminum, Fusarium heterosporum, Fusarium negundi, Fusarium oxysporum, Fusarium reticulatum, Fusarium roseum, Fusarium sambucinum, Fusarium sarcochroum, Fusarium sporotrichioides, Fusarium sulphureum, Fusarium torulosum, Fusarium trichothecioides, Fusarium venenatum, Humicola insolens, Humicola lanuginosa, Mucor miehei, Myceliophthora thermophila, Neurospora crassa, Penicillium purpurogenum, Trichoderma harzianum, Trichoderma koningii, Trichoderma longibrachiatum, Trichoderma reesei, or Trichoderma viride defensin. Strains of these species are readily accessible to the public in a number of culture collections, such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH (DSM), Centraalbureau Voor Schimmelcultures (CBS), and Agricultural Research Service Patent Culture Collection, Northern Regional Research Center (NRRL). Defensins also include fused defensins or cleavable fusion defensins in which another defensin is fused at the N-terminus or the C-terminus of the defensin or fragment thereof. A fused defensin is produced by fusing a nucleotide sequence (or a portion thereof) encoding another defensin to a nucleotide sequence (or a portion thereof) of the present invention. Techniques for producing fusion defensins are known in the art, and include ligating the coding sequences encoding the defensins so that they are in frame and that expression of the fused defensin is under control of the same promoter(s) and terminator.

Nucleic Acid Sequences

The techniques used to isolate or clone a polynucleotide encoding a defensin are known in the art and include isolation from genomic DNA, preparation from cDNA, or a combination thereof. Cloning of the polynucleotides encoding the defensins from such ge- nomic DNA can be effected, e.g., by using the well known polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antibody screening of expression libraries to detect cloned DNA fragments with shared structural features. See, e.g., lnnis et al., 1990, PCR: A Guide to Methods and Application, Academic Press, New York. Other nucleic acid amplification procedures such as ligase chain reaction (LCR), ligated activated transcription (LAT) and nucleotide sequence-based amplification (NASBA) may be used. The polynucleotides may be cloned from a strain of Eurotium, Aspergillus, Pseudoplectania, Crassostrea, Mesobuthus or another or related organism and thus, for example, may be an allelic or species variant of the defensin encoding region of the nucleotide sequences.

Modification of a nucleotide sequence encoding a defensin may be necessary for the synthesis of defensins substantially similar to the defensin. The term "substantially similar" to the defensin refers to non-naturally occurring forms of the defensin. These defensins may differ in some engineered way from the defensin isolated from its native source, e.g., artificial variants that differ in specific activity, thermostability, pH optimum, or the like. For a general description of nucleotide substitution, see, e.g., Ford et al., 1991 , Protein Expression and Purification 2: 95-107.

Nucleic Acid Constructs

The present invention also relates to nucleic acid constructs comprising a polynucleotide encoding a defensin operably linked to one or more control sequences which direct the expression of the coding sequence in a suitable host cell under conditions compatible with the control sequences.

A polynucleotide encoding a defensin may be manipulated in a variety of ways to provide for expression of the defensin. Manipulation of the polynucleotide's sequence prior to its insertion into a vector may be desirable or necessary depending on the expression vector. The techniques for modifying polynucleotide sequences utilizing recombinant DNA methods are well known in the art. The control sequence may be an appropriate promoter sequence, a nucleotide sequence which is recognized by a host cell for expression of a polynucleotide encoding a defensin of the invention. The promoter sequence contains transcriptional control sequences which mediate the expression of the defensin. The promoter may be any nucleotide sequence which shows transcriptional activity in the host cell of choice including mutant, truncated, and hybrid promoters, and may be obtained from genes encoding extracellular or intracellular polypeptides either homologous or heterologous to the host cell.

Examples of suitable promoters for directing the transcription of the nucleic acid constructs of the present invention in a filamentous fungal host cell are promoters ob- tained from the genes for Aspergillus oryzae TAKA amylase, Rhizomucor miehei aspartic proteinase, Aspergillus niger neutral alpha-amylase, Aspergillus niger acid stable alpha- amylase, Aspergillus niger or Aspergillus awamori glucoamylase {glaA), Rhizomucor miehei lipase, Aspergillus oryzae alkaline protease, Aspergillus oryzae triose phosphate isomerase, Aspergillus nidulans acetamidase, Fusarium venenatum amyloglucosidase (WO 00/56900), Fusarium venenatum Daria (WO 00/56900), Fusarium venenatum Quinn (WO 00/56900), Fusarium oxysporum trypsin-like protease (WO 96/00787), Trichoderma reesei beta- glucosidase, Trichoderma reesei cellobiohydrolase I, Trichoderma reesei endoglucanase I, Trichoderma reesei endoglucanase II, Trichoderma reesei endoglucanase III, Trichoderma reesei endoglucanase IV, Trichoderma reesei endoglucanase V, Trichoderma reesei xy- lanase I, Trichoderma reesei xylanase II, Trichoderma reesei beta-xylosidase, as well as the NA2-tpi promoter (a hybrid of the promoters from the genes for Aspergillus niger neutral alpha-amylase and Aspergillus oryzae triose phosphate isomerase); and mutant, truncated, and hybrid promoters thereof.

The control sequence may also be a suitable transcription terminator se- quence, a sequence recognized by a host cell to terminate transcription. The terminator sequence is operably linked to the 3' terminus of the nucleotide sequence encoding the defensin. Any terminator which is functional in the host cell of choice may be used in the present invention.

Preferred terminators for filamentous fungal host cells are obtained from the genes for Aspergillus oryzae TAKA amylase, Aspergillus niger glucoamylase, Aspergillus nidulans anthranilate synthase, Aspergillus niger alpha-glucosidase, and Fusarium oxysporum trypsin-like protease.

The control sequence may also be a suitable leader sequence, a nontrans- lated region of an mRNA which is important for translation by the host cell. The leader se- quence is operably linked to the 5' terminus of the nucleotide sequence encoding the defensin. Any leader sequence that is functional in the host cell of choice may be used in the present invention. Preferred leaders for filamentous fungal host cells are obtained from the genes for Aspergillus oryzae TAKA amylase and Aspergillus nidulans triose phosphate isomerase.

The control sequence may also be a polyadenylation sequence, a sequence operably linked to the 3' terminus of the nucleotide sequence and which, when transcribed, is recognized by the host cell as a signal to add polyadenosine residues to transcribed mRNA.

Any polyadenylation sequence which is functional in the host cell of choice may be used in the present invention.

Preferred polyadenylation sequences for filamentous fungal host cells are ob- tained from the genes for Aspergillus oryzae TAKA amylase, Aspergillus niger glucoamylase, Aspergillus nidulans anthranilate synthase, Fusarium oxysporum trypsin-like protease, and Aspergillus niger alpha-glucosidase.

The control sequence may also be a signal peptide coding region that codes for an amino acid sequence linked to the amino terminus of a polypeptide and directs the en- coded polypeptide into the cell's secretory pathway. The 5' end of the coding sequence of the nucleotide sequence may inherently contain a signal peptide coding region naturally linked in translation reading frame with the segment of the coding region which encodes the secreted defensin. Alternatively, the 5' end of the coding sequence may contain a signal peptide coding region which is foreign to the coding sequence. The foreign signal peptide coding region may be required where the coding sequence does not naturally contain a signal peptide coding region. Alternatively, the foreign signal peptide coding region may simply replace the natural signal peptide coding region in order to enhance secretion of the defensin. However, any signal peptide coding region which directs the expressed defensin into the secretory pathway of a host cell of choice may be used in the present invention. Effective signal peptide coding regions for filamentous fungal host cells are the signal peptide coding regions obtained from the genes for Aspergillus oryzae TAKA amylase, Aspergillus niger neutral amylase, Aspergillus niger glucoamylase, Rhizomucor miehei aspartic proteinase, Humicola insolens cellulase, and Humicola lanuginosa lipase.

The control sequence may also be a propeptide coding region that codes for an amino acid sequence positioned at the amino terminus of a polypeptide. The resultant polypeptide is known as a proenzyme or propolypeptide (or a zymogen in some cases). A propolypeptide is generally inactive and can be converted to a mature active polypeptide by catalytic or autocatalytic cleavage of the propeptide from the propolypeptide. The propeptide coding region may be obtained from the genes for Bacillus subtilis alkaline protease (aprE), Bacillus subtilis neutral protease {nprT), Saccharomyces cerevisiae alpha-factor, Rhizomucor miehei aspartic proteinase, and Myceliophthora thermophila laccase (WO 95/33836). Where both signal peptide and propeptide regions are present at the amino terminus of a polypeptide, the propeptide region is positioned next to the amino terminus of a polypeptide and the signal peptide region is positioned next to the amino terminus of the propeptide region. It may also be desirable to add regulatory sequences which allow the regulation of the expression of the defensin relative to the growth of the host cell. Examples of regulatory systems are those which cause the expression of the gene to be turned on or off in response to a chemical or physical stimulus, including the presence of a regulatory compound. Regulatory systems in prokaryotic systems include the lac, tac, and trp operator sys- terns. In yeast, the ADH2 system or GAL1 system may be used. In filamentous fungi, the TAKA alpha-amylase promoter, Aspergillus niger glucoamylase promoter, and Aspergillus oryzae glucoamylase promoter may be used as regulatory sequences. Other examples of regulatory sequences are those which allow for gene amplification. In eukaryotic systems, these include the dihydrofolate reductase gene which is amplified in the presence of meth- otrexate, and the metallothionein genes which are amplified with heavy metals. In these cases, the nucleotide sequence encoding the defensin would be operably linked with the regulatory sequence.

Expression Vectors The present invention also relates to recombinant expression vectors comprising a polynucleotide encoding a defensin, a promoter, and transcriptional and translational stop signals. The various nucleic acids and control sequences described above may be joined together to produce a recombinant expression vector which may include one or more convenient restriction sites to allow for insertion or substitution of the nucleotide sequence encoding the defensin at such sites. Alternatively, a nucleotide sequence encoding a defensin may be expressed by inserting the nucleotide sequence or a nucleic acid construct comprising the sequence into an appropriate vector for expression. In creating the expression vector, the coding sequence is located in the vector so that the coding sequence is operably linked with the appropriate control sequences for expression. The recombinant expression vector may be any vector (e.g., a plasmid or virus) which can be conveniently subjected to recombinant DNA procedures and can bring about expression of the nucleotide sequence. The choice of the vector will typically depend on the compatibility of the vector with the host cell into which the vector is to be introduced. The vectors may be linear or closed circular plasmids. The vector may be an autonomously replicating vector, i.e., a vector which exists as an extrachromosomal entity, the replication of which is independent of chromosomal replication, e.g., a plasmid, an extrachromosomal element, a minichromosome, or an artificial chromosome. The vector may contain any means for assuring self-replication. Alternatively, the vector may be one which, when introduced into the host cell, is integrated into the genome and replicated together with the chromosome(s) into which it has been integrated. Furthermore, a single vector or plasmid or two or more vectors or plasmids which together contain the total DNA to be introduced into the genome of the host cell, or a transposon may be used.

The vectors used for expression of the defensins preferably contain one or more selectable markers which permit easy selection of transformed cells. A selectable marker is a gene the product of which provides for biocide or viral resistance, resistance to heavy metals, prototrophy to auxotrophs, and the like.

Examples of selectable markers for use in a filamentous fungal host cell include, but are not limited to, amdS (acetamidase), argB (ornithine carbamoyltransferase), bar (phosphinothricin acetyltransferase), hph (hygromycin phosphotransferase), niaD (nitrate reductase), pyrG (orotidine-5'-phosphate decarboxylase), sC (sulfate adenyltransferase), and trpC (anthranilate synthase), as well as equivalents thereof. Preferred for use in an Aspergillus cell are the amdS and pyrG genes of Aspergillus nidulans or Aspergillus oryzae and the bar gene of Streptomyces hygroscopicus.

The vectors preferably contain an element(s) that permits integration of the vector into the host cell's genome or autonomous replication of the vector in the cell inde- pendent of the genome.

For integration into the host cell genome, the vector may rely on the polynucleotide's sequence encoding the defensin or any other element of the vector for integration into the genome by homologous or nonhomologous recombination. Alternatively, the vector may contain additional nucleotide sequences for directing integration by homologous recom- bination into the genome of the host cell at a precise location(s) in the chromosome(s). To increase the likelihood of integration at a precise location, the integrational elements should preferably contain a sufficient number of nucleic acids, such as 100 to 10,000 base pairs, preferably 400 to 10,000 base pairs, and most preferably 800 to 10,000 base pairs, which have a high degree of identity with the corresponding target sequence to enhance the prob- ability of homologous recombination. The integrational elements may be any sequence that is homologous with the target sequence in the genome of the host cell. Furthermore, the integrational elements may be non-encoding or encoding nucleotide sequences. On the other hand, the vector may be integrated into the genome of the host cell by non-homologous recombination. For autonomous replication, the vector may further comprise an origin of replication enabling the vector to replicate autonomously in the host cell in question. The origin of replication may be any plasmid replicator mediating autonomous replication which func- tions in a cell. The term "origin of replication" or "plasmid replicator" is defined herein as a nucleotide sequence that enables a plasmid or vector to replicate in vivo.

Examples of origins of replication useful in a filamentous fungal cell are AMA1 and ANSI (Gems et al., 1991 , Gene 98:61-67; Cullen et al., 1987, Nucleic Acids Research 15: 9163-9175; WO 00/24883). Isolation of the AMA1 gene and construction of plasmids or vectors comprising the gene can be accomplished according to the methods disclosed in WO

00/24883.

More than one copy of a polynucleotide encoding a defensin may be inserted into the host cell to increase production of the gene product. An increase in the copy number of the polynucleotide can be obtained by integrating at least one additional copy of the sequence into the host cell genome or by including an amplifiable selectable marker gene with the polynucleotide where cells containing amplified copies of the selectable marker gene, and thereby additional copies of the polynucleotide, can be selected for by cultivating the cells in the presence of the appropriate selectable agent. The procedures used to ligate the elements described above to construct the recombinant expression vectors of the present invention are well known to one skilled in the art (see, e.g., Sambrook et al., 1989, supra).

Filamentous Fungal Host Cells The host cell (or organism) of the invention is a filamentous fungus including all filamentous forms of the divisions Ascomycota, Basidiomycota, Chytridiomycota and Zygomycota (as defined by Kirk, P.M. et al., In, Ainsworth and Bisby's Dictionary of The Fungi, 9th edition, 2001 , CAB International, Wallingford, UK). The filamentous fungi are characterized by a vegetative mycelium composed of chitin and glucan and/or other complex polysaccharides. Vegetative growth is by hyphal elongation. Preferably carbon catabolism is obligately aerobic.

In an embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell (or organism) belongs to the order Eurotiales of the subdivision Ascomycota; preferably it more specifically belongs to the Trichocomaceae family. In a more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell (or organism) is a cell of a species of, but not limited to, Acremonium, Aspergillus, Emericella, Eurotium, Fusarium, Humicola, Mucor, Myceliophthora, Neurospora, Penicillium, Eupenicillium, Thielavia, Tolypocladium, and Trichoderma or a teleomorph, anamorph or synonym thereof. In an even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is an Aspergillus. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is an Acremonium. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Fusarium. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Humicola. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Mucor. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Myceliophthora. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Neurospora. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Penicillium. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Thielavia. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Tolypocladium. In another even more preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Trichoderma. In a most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is an Aspergillus awamori, Aspergillus foetidus, Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus phoenicis, Aspergillus japonicus, Aspergillus aculeatus, Aspergillus nidulans, Aspergillus niger or Aspergillus oryzae. In another preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Fusarium of the section Discolor (also known as the section Fusarium). For example, the filamentous fungal host cell may be a Fusarium bactridioides, Fusarium cerealis, Fusarium crookwellense, Fusarium culmorum, Fusarium graminearum, Fusarium graminum, Fusarium heterosporum, Fusarium negundi, Fusarium reticulatum, Fusarium roseum, Fusarium sambucinum, Fusarium sarcochroum, Fusarium sulphureum, or Fusarium trichothecioides. In another prefered embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Fusarium strain of the section Elegans, e.g., Fusarium oxysporum. In another most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Humicola insolens or Humicola lanuginosa. In another most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Mucor miehei. In another most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Myceliophthora thermophilum. In another most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Neurospora crassa cell. In another most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Penicillium purpurogenum or Penicillium funiculosum (WO 00/68401 ). In another most preferred embodiment, the filamentous fungal host cell is a Thielavia terrestris. In another most preferred embodiment, the Trichoderma cell is a Trichoderma harzianum, Trichoderma koningii, Trichoderma longibrachiatum, Trichoderma reesei or Trichoderma viride.

In a particular embodiment the filamentous host cell is Aspergillus oryzae. In another particular embodiment the filamentous host cell is Aspergillus niger.

In a preferred embodiment of the invention the host cell is a protease deficient or protease minus strain.

This may e.g. be the protease deficient strain Aspergillus oryzae JaL 125 having the alkaline protease gene named "alp" deleted. This strain is described in WO 97/35956 (Novozymes), or EP patent no. 429,490, or the TPAP free host cell, in particular a strain of Aspergillus niger, disclosed in WO 96/14404. Further, also host cells, especially A. niger or A. oryzae, with reduced production of the transcriptional activator (prtT) as described in WO 01/68864 is specifically contemplated according to the invention.

Methods and Uses In a first aspect, the invention relates to a method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell, comprising expressing the antifungal peptide in the host cell, wherein an endogenous glucosyl ceramide synthase activity in the filamentous fungal host has been completely or partially inactivated compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions. In a particular embodiment the host cell is essentially free of any glucosyl ceramide synthetase activity. Particularly it will be convenient to delete the gene encoding the gcs activity. In this case the host cell is a deletion mutant. The skilled person will know how to make deletion mutants as well as other types of mutants.

One way to test whether a mutant cell has a reduced activity of a gcs gene is by analyzing the lipid composition of the membrane in the mutant compared to the wild type. This can be done essentially as described in Leipelt et al., (2001 ) Journal of Biological Chemistry 276 (36) 33621-33629.

In particular the level of the endogenous glucosyl ceramide synthase activity is reduced more than about 60%, preferably more than about 85%, more preferably more than about 90%, and most preferably more than about 95% compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

In a second aspect the invention provides a method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell, comprising expressing the antifungal peptide in the host cell, wherein an endogenous activity encoded by: (a) the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (b) a nucleotide sequence having at least 45% identity to SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (c) a nucleotide sequence which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (d) a nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide having an amino acid sequence which has at least 50% identity with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2 is eliminated or reduced with more than about 60%, preferably more than about 85%, more preferably more than about 90%, and most preferably more than about 95% compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

In a third aspect the invention provides an Aspergillus host cell, wherein an endogenous activity has been completely or partially inactivated, and wherein the endogenous activ- ity is encoded by: (a) the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (b) a nucleotide sequence having at least 60% identity to SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (c) a nucleotide sequence which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (d) a nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide having an amino acid sequence which has at least 70% identity with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2.

In a preferred embodiment the Aspergillus host cell is an Aspergillus oryzae host cell. In another preferred aspect the host cell is an Aspergillus niger host cell.

The present invention is further described by the following examples which should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention.

EXAMPLES

Example 1

Using the HMM files from the PFAM database to identify a defensin

Sequence analysis using hidden markov model profiles (HMM profiles) may be carried out either online on the Internet or locally on a computer using the well-known HMMER freely available software package. The current version is HMMER 2.3.2 from October 2003. The HMM profiles may be obtained from the well-known PFAM database. The current version is PFAM 16.0 from November 2004. Both HMMER and PFAM are available for all computer platforms from e.g. Washington University in St. Louis (USA), School of Medicine (http://pfam.wustl.edu and http://hmmer.wustl.edu).

If a query amino acid sequence, or a fragment thereof, belongs to one of the follow- ing five PFAM families, the amino acid sequence is a defensin according to the present invention:

• Defensin_beta or "Beta Defensin", accession number: PF0071 1 ;

• Defensin_propep or "Defensin propeptide", accession number: PF00879;

• Defensin_1 or "Mammalian defensin", accession number: PF00323; • Defensin_2 or "Arthropod defensin", accession number: PF01097;

• Gamma-thionin or "Gamma-thionins family", accession number: PF00304.

An amino acid sequence belongs to a PFAM family, according to the present invention, if it generates an E-value which is greater than 0.1 , and a score which is larger or equal to zero, when the PFAM database is used online, or when the hmmpfam program (from the HMMER software package) is used locally.

When the sequence analysis is carried out locally using the hmmpfam program, it is necessary to obtain (download) the HMM profiles from the PFAM database. Two profiles ex- ist for each family; xxxjs.hmm for glocal searches, and xxx_fs.hmm for local searches ("xxx" is the name of the family). That makes a total of ten profiles for the five families mentioned above. Examples of these profiles are shown in figures 1-10 below.

These ten profiles may be used individually, or joined (appended) into a single pro- file (using a text editor - the profiles are ASCII files) that could be named e.g. defensin.hmm. A query amino acid sequence can then be evaluated by using the following command line: hmmpfam -E 0.1 defensin.hmm sequence_file

- wherein "sequence_file" is a file with the query amino acid sequence in any of the formats recognized by the HMMER software package.

If the score is larger or equal to zero (0.0), and the E-value is greater than 0.1 , the query amino acid sequence is a defensin according to the present invention.

The PFAM database is further described in Bateman et al. (2004) "The Pfam Protein Families Database", Nucleic Acids Research, Vol. 32 (Database Issue) pp. D138-D141.

Materials

Strains Aspergillus oryzae ToC1512 is described in WO 2005/070962 A1 , example 1 1 Aspergillus oryzae BECh2 is described in WO 00/39322, example 1

Genes pyrG: This gene encodes for orotidine-5'-phosphate decarboxylase, an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of uridine.

Gcs: This gene encodes UDP-glucose:ceramide glucosyltransferase, an enzyme involved in the final step in the glucosylceramide biosynthetic pathway.

Plasmids pDV8 is described in WO2001068864A1 pCR®4Blunt TOPO® from Invitrogen pJaL554 is described in WO2000050567A1 pJaL1028 is described in example 2 pMT2944 is described in example 5 pPtSL2 is described in example 3 pPtSL3 is described in example 3 pPtSL4 is described in example 5 Primers

172449 (SEQ ID NO: 9) 172450 (SEQ ID NO: 10) Gcsupfor-1 (SEQ ID NO: 1 1 ) Gcsuprev-1 (SEQ ID NO: 12) Gcsdownfor-1 (SEQ ID NO: 13) Gcsdownrev-1 (SEQ ID NO: 14) Gcs-for (SEQ ID NO: 15) Gcs-rev (SEQ ID NO: 16) pJaL1028-BstZ171 (SEQ ID NO: 17) pJal_1028-EcoRI (SEQ ID NO: 18) pJaL1028-Hindlll (SEQ ID NO: 19) pJaL1028-BamHI (SEQ ID NO: 20)

Table 1

Table of Primers used for construction of pPtSL3 and for identification of correct homologous recombination in ToC1512. Methods

General methods of PCR, cloning, ligation of nucleotides etc. are well known to a person skilled in the art and may for example be found in "Molecular cloning: A laboratory manual", Sambrook et al. (1989), Cold Spring Harbor, NY; Ausubel, F. M. Et al. (eds.); " Current proto- cols in Molecular Biology", John Wiley and Sons, (1995); Harwood, C. R., and Cutting, S. M. (eds.); "DNA Cloning: A Practical Approach, Volume I and II", D. N. Glover, ed. (1985); "Oligonucleotide Synthesis", M. J. Gait, ed (1984); Nucleic Acid Hybridization", B. D. Hames & S. J. Higgins, eds (1985); A Practical Guide to Molecular Cloning", B. Perbal (1984).

DNA hybridization

In short all DNA hybridisations were carried out for 16 hours at 650C in a standard hybridisation buffer of 1 Ox Denhart's solution, 5x SSC, 0.02 M EDTA, 1% SDS, 0.15 mg/ml polyA RNA and 0.05 mg/ml yeast tRNA. After hybridisation the filters were washed in 2x SSC, 0.1 % SDS at 650C twice and exposed to X-ray films.

PCR amplification

All PCR amplifications were performed in volumes of 50 microL. containing 1.75 units of Expand High Fidelity PCR System (Roche), approx. 100 ng DNA, 250 microM of each dNTP, and 10 pmol ot two primers desribed above in Expand High Fidelitybuffer with 1 ,5 mM MgCI2. Amplification was carried out in a Perkin-Elmer Cetus DNA Termal 480, and consisted of cycle of 2 minutes at 940C, followed by 35 cycles of 30 seconds at 940C, 30 seconds of 550C, and 1 minute at 720C, followed by an extra extension of 1 minutes at 720C.

Transformation of A. oryzae ToC1512: A 16-20 hour old culture was harvested in Mira cloth and washed with 0,6 M MgSO4. The mycelia was transferred to a 100 ml plastic tube containing 10 ml MgSO4, 10 mM NaH2PO4, pH 5.8, 50-100 mg Glucanex. Twelve mg BSA was added and the solution was incubated for 2 hours at 370C under weak shaking. Protoplasts were havested through Mira cloth and 5 ml ST (0,6 M sorbitol, 100 mM Tris-CI, pH 7,0) was added as a layer upon the protoplasts. After 15 minutes centrifugation at 2500 rpm the protoplast in the interfase was harvested and transferred to a new tube. Two volume of STC (1 ,2 M sorbitol, 10 mM Tris-CI, pH 7,5, 10 Mm CaCI2) was added followed by 5 minutes centrifugation at 2500 rpm. The protoplasts were washed twice in 5 ml STC and finaly resuspended in STC. Approx. 4 ug DNA was added to 100 μl of protoplasts followed by addition of 300 ul 60 % PEG 4000. The protoplasts were incubated for 20 minutes at room temp, followed by dilution in 1.2 ml sorbitol and centrifugation for 10 minutes at 2500 rpm. The transformants were re- suspended in 100 ul sorbitol and plated on FDU selective medium (5-fluoro-2'-deoxy uridine) and incubated at 37°C.

All transformants were re-isolated twice on FDU selective medium from single sporangia and incubated at 30°C.

Transformation of A. oryzae BECh2 and PtSLI :

Transformation of PtSLI was performed as described for ToC1512. The transformants were plated on agar plates with amdS selection. All transformants were reisolated twice on amdS selective medium from single sporangia and incubated at 30°C. Transformation of BECh2 was performed as described for ToC1512. The transformants were plated on agar plates with amdS selection followed by addition of a layer of topagar after 20 minutes of incubation. All transformants were reisolated twice on amdS selective medium from single sporangia and incubated at 30°C.

Culture conditions and storage:

All strains were stored on Cove-N-Gly slants or Cove-N slants at 4°C and selected transformants in 20 % glycerol at -80°C. All strains were cultured in YPM before DNA extraction. Transformants were cultured in 2, 5 or 10 ml YCM or YPM media in Nunc tubes at 30°C for 6 days before SDS gel electrophoresis or for 6-9 days in 5 L lab-tank fermentors.

Selected strains were subjected to YCM with 0-5815 mg/L ETD151 for 6 days in order to test tolerance to ETD151.

SDS-page gel electrophoresis: 7.5 μl supernatant samples from the above described cultures were subjected to SDS-gel electrophoresis. The gels were stained with SYPRO Orange Protein Gel Stain (Molecular Probes).

Bioassay: ETD151 was diluted to 58 μg/ml in peptide dilution buffer (0,1 % BSA, 0,01% Acetic Acid) and further on to 6 μg/ml and 0.6 μg/ml and used as control. Candida utilis was grown on YPD plates, A. oryzae on Cove N medium slants. An inoculum of fungal growth was resuspended in 0.1% Tween to an optical density of approx. 1 McFarland Unit. A NUNC-tube with 15 ml 1/3 PD agarose at approx. 42°C was inoculated with approx. 6 X 106 CFU, mixed thoroughly and poured into a sterile 9 cm square dish (Falcon 351 1 12) on a levelling table and allowed to solidify and set for 30 minutes. Ten μl of each of the peptide dilutions was added to the surface of the plate. The plates were incubated at 300C (or 37°C as appropriate). The next day, growth was detected either by observing the inhibition zones by oblique illumination (or by adding 3 ml of a 3 mM MTT solution and leaving the plate for 1-2 hours at room temperature). The growth inhibition was seen as clearing zones.

Example 2

Construction of plasmid pJaL1028

Two restriction recognition sites for BamHI and BgIII, respectively, was destroyed in pDV8 by digestion with BamHI and subsequently the ends were completely filled in by treatment with Klenow and the four dNTPs. The resulting 6030 bp fragment was re-ligated giving plasmid pJaL504. Then secondly pJal_504 was digested with BgIII and then the ends were completely filled in by treatment with Klenow and the 4 dNTPs. The resulting 6034 bp fragment was re-ligated giving plasmid pJal_504-delta-Bglll. By PCR using the primers 172450 and 172449 a 2522 bp fragment was amplified containing the HSV-tk gene flanked by the A.nidulans gpd promoter and TrpC terminator. This PCR fragment was cloned into the plas- mid pCR®4Blunt TOPO® vector resulting in pJal_574.

The A.oryzae pyrG gene from pJal_554 was isolated as a 2403 Stul-EcoRI fragment, wherein the EcoRI site was completely filled in by treatment with Klenow and the 4 dNTPs. The fragment was cloned into the unique Pmel site in pJal_574 resulting in plasmid pJal_1022. Plasmid pJaL1022 was digested with SspB1 and the 8574 bp fragment was isolated and re- ligated, resulting in plasmid pJal_1025. Plasmid pJal_1025 was digested with EcoRI and the 8559 bp fragment was isolate and re-ligated, resulting in plasmid pJal_1027. One of two BamHI site was destroyed by partially digestion with BamHI following treatment with Klenow and the four dNTPs by which the ends were completely filled in. The 8563 bp fragment was re-ligated resulting in plasmid pJal_1028. The resulting plasmid pJal_1028 is suited for construction of homologous double cross-over disruption plasmids for use in Aspergillus. It contains the A.oryzae pyrG gene and the HSV-tk gene. The pyrG gene is surrounded by unique restriction endonuclease (RE) site for facilitating cloning of DNA flanks. At the 3' end of the pyrG there are four unique RE sites (AcII, Hin- dill, BamHI and Spel) and at the 5' end of the pyrG are two unique RE sites (Bst1107l and EcoRI). The herpex simplex virus I thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) flanked by fungal expression signal makes the host sensitive to 5-flouro-2-deoxyuridine (FdU). A disrupted strain can be isolated by positive selection for the pyrG gene in a pyrG minus host and deselection of the thymidine kinase gene on FdU. Since the tk gene and the pyrG gene are present in the same DNA fragment selection is for transformants in which a double cross-over event has happed. The system gives fewer transformants pr. Micro gram of DNA than transformation with a common disruption cassette, and the frequency of transformants in which the desired homologous recombination has occurred is much higher. Example 3

Construction of plasmid pPtSL3

A DNA fragment of 1 192 bp (SEQ ID NO: 3) containing part of the A. oryzae strain ToC1512 gcs gene promoter region was PCR amplified using the specific primers Gcsupfor-1 and Gcsuprev-1. The 5'-end of Gcsupfor-1 was flanked with BambW and the 5'-end of Gcsuprev-1 was flanked with Hind\\\ and therefore the fragment was flanked by BamYW and Hind\\\ during PCR amplification. The PCR product was digested with BambW and Hind\\\ and cloned into pJaL1028, digested with the same enzymes resulting in the plasmid pPtSL2. The PCR prod- uct was sequenced and verified to be identical to the sequence of the gcs promoter region. A DNA fragment of 1236 bp (SEQ ID NO: 4) containing the A. oryzae strain ToC1512 gcs gene terminator region was PCR amplified using the specific primers Gcsdownfor-1 and Gcsdownrev-1. The 5'-end of Gcsdownfor-1 was flanked with SsfZ1 107 and the 5'-end of Gcsdownrev-1 was flanked with EcoRI and therefore the fragment was flanked by SsfZ1107 and EcoRI during PCR amplification. The PCR product was digested with SsfZ1107 and EcoRI and cloned into pPtSL2, digested with the same enzymes, resulting in the plasmid pPtSL3. The PCR product was sequenced and verified to be identical to the sequence of the gcs terminator region.

Example 4

Construction of a gcs" mutant (PtSLD from A. oryzae strain ToC1512

In order to develop a gcs" mutant in A. oryzae, strain ToC1512 was transformed with pPtSL3 linearized with BamYW. The transformation was carried out in order to disrupt the gcs gene during gene replacement with pyrG by homologous recombination. A transformant where only the correct replacement has happened without any other introduction of plasmid DNA in the genome was obtained resulting in the A.oryzae strain PtSLI (amy", alp", NpI", CPA", KA" , AMG", gcs").

All ToC1512 transformants were initially tested by PCR for loss of the gcs gene using the primers Gcs-for and Gcs-rev. gcs negative transformants were tested in PCR for insertion of pyrG in place of gcs using the following primer combinations: pJaL1028-BstZ171 + gcsdownrev-1 , pJaL1028-Hindlll + gcsupfor-1 , pJaL1028-BamHI +gcsuprev-1 , pJaL1028-EcoRI + gcsdownfor-1 (Table 1 ).

Southern blotting was performed as described. Southern blot was carried out to confirm that the transformants were lacking the gcs gene, that the pyrG gene was introduced, and that no other parts of the plasmid were introduced in the genome.

A PCR fragment, obtained by the primers Gcs-for and Gcs-rev, of the gcs gene was used as probe to identify strains that had lost the gcs gene. A DNA fragment covering the gcs termi- nator region was obtained by digestion of pPtSL3 with Hind\\\ and BambW. This was used as probe to identify strains that had obtained the pyrG gene. The plasmid pJal_1028 from which the pyrG cassette and the gcs promoter and terminator regions were deleted (EcoRI/SamHI digested) was used as probe to show whether strains had obtained part(s) of the plasmid by incorrect recombination. 32P was used to label the probes.

For correct insertion the bands on the Southern blot, (Probe 1 , gcs terminator region) should give a Xho\ band at 4608 bp indicating that the gcs gene is disrupted and the pyrG cassette is introduced. If the band is 2309 bp the gcs gene is not disrupted. The bands in this blot are of the size described. The reason why a fragment covering part of the pyrG gene is not used is because remnants of the pyrG gene are already in the genome, and this could give misleading conclusions. Therefore the Southern blot was carried out to identify correct size of restriction fragments. In another Southern blot, using probe 2 (gcs probe) only strains containing the gcs gene should give a band. This should only be the case for ToC1512. A third Southern blot, (Probe 3) shows if any of the mutants have other parts of the plasmid inserted in the genome. Only strain no. 7 has some remnants of the plasmid that should not be introduced.

From the initial FDU selection plates 59 pyrG positive transformants, of which 12 were fast growing, 40 slow growing and 7 extremely slow growing, were reisolated twice at FDU plates. Of these 1 slow growing (candidate 18) and 6 extremely slow growing (candidates 2, 7, 12, 19, 26, 35a) transformants had lost the gcs gene by homologous recombination where the gcs gene was replaced by the pyrG gene. One of these 7 transformants (candidate 7) also had some remnants of the plasmid inserted identified by PCR, primer combination pJal_1028-BamHI + gcsuprev-1 and Southern blot hybridization. The primer combination pJal_1028-EcoRI + gcsdownfor-1 only gave a band on pPtSL3. This means that only strain 7 of the gcs" mutants has remnants of the plasmid part near the BamYW restriction site and the 6 other gcs" mutants are correct disrupted without any remnants of the plasmid part. To test the tolerance to ETD151 , ToC1512, BECh2 and the 7 gcs" mutants were grown in YCM with different amounts of ETD151 (maximum 5815 mg/L). Only the gcs" mutants grew very well in high concentrations of ETD151 , while BECh2 grew badly and Tod 512 did not grow at all. One of the gcs" mutants (no. 18) was hereafter selected and named PtSLI .

Example 5

Construction of plasmid pPtSL4: A HinPI I/ Xhol fragment of 140 bp (shown in SEQ ID NO: 5) containing the synthetic ETD151 gene (shown in SEQ ID NO: 6 and encoding the ETD151 peptide shown in SEQ ID NO: 7) was cloned into the plasmid pMT2944 (SEQ ID NO: 8) digested with Xho\ and /Ac/1 , resulting in the plasmid pPtSL4. Before introducing the ETD151 gene a DNA fragment was removed from pMT2944 by Xho\ and AcH digestion. pMT2944 is briefly described in patent application US20060272050A1 (or WO 2006/053565). It is an E. coli/ 'Aspergillus shuttle vector allowing selection for leucine prototrophy in E. coli leuB mutants and also for amdS based selection in Aspergillus oryzae. The pMT2944 plasmid also contains a strong promoter and a secretion signal allowing insertion of a nucleotide sequence encoding a peptide to be secreted to the growth medium by the A.oryzae host. The cloned part in pPtSL4 was se- quenced to verify correct cloning and correct DNA sequence.

Example 6

Expression of ETD151 in BECh2:

BECh2 was transformed with plasmid pPtSL4 and subjected to amdS medium. amdS resistant colonies were isolated as spores from single sporangies and subjected to amdS medium twice. From 45 BECh2 transformants, 43 were subjected to a Bioassay as described using Candida utilis as target organism and to SDS gel electrophoresis. No clear bands the size of ETD151 could be identified from the SDS gels, but the Bioassay showed clearing zones in the plate assay expression of a functional ETD151 peptide showing concentrations around 1 mg/L.

Example 7

Expression of ETD151 in PtSLI :

PtSLI was transformed with plasmid pPtSL4 and subjected to amdS medium. amdS resistant colonies were isolated as spores from single sporangies and subjected to amdS medium twice. From the transformation of PtSLI , 50 amdS resistant transformants were subjected to SDS gel electrophoresis and Bioassay. Of the 50 transformants 30 synthesized a product corresponding in size to ETD151 , and these transformants synthesize varying amounts of ETD151 visualized by SDS and Bioassay. The yield was about 2000% higher than for BECh2. Four of the transformants (no. 3, 14, 17 and 21 ) were subjected to Lab-tank fermentation for 9 days and the yield of ETD151 from these fermentations were raised dramatically resulting in yields that was around 100000% higher. The experiments show that the gcs" mutant PtSLI expresses ETD151 in much higher concentrations than BECh2.

CLAIMS

1. A method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell, comprising expressing the antifungal peptide in the host cell, wherein an endogenous glucosyl ceramide synthase activity in the filamentous fungal host has been completely or partially inactivated compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

2. The method according to claim 1 , wherein the level of the endogenous glucosyl ceramide synthase activity is reduced more than about 60%, preferably more than about 85%, more preferably more than about 90%, and most preferably more than about 95% compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

3. The method according to claim 2, wherein the host cell is essentially free of any glucosyl ceramide synthase activity.

4. The method according to claim 3, wherein the host cell is a glucosyl ceramide synthase deletion mutant.

5. A method for producing an antifungal peptide in a filamentous fungal host cell, comprising expressing the antifungal peptide in the host cell, wherein an endogenous activity encoded by: (a) the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (b) a nucleotide sequence having at least 45% identity to SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (c) a nucleotide sequence which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (d) a nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide having an amino acid sequence which has at least 50% identity with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2 is eliminated or reduced with more than about 60%, preferably more than about 85%, more preferably more than about 90%, and most preferably more than about 95% compared to a parent filamentous fungal host grown under identical conditions.

6. The method according to any of the preceding claims, wherein the antifungal peptide is selected from the group consisting of antifungal defensins.

7. The method according to claim 6, wherein the defensin is selected from the group consisting of heliomycin, drosomycin, termicin, HsAFP3, RsAFPI , RsAFP2 or derivatives thereof.

8. The method according to claim 7, wherein the heliomycin derivative is selected from the group consisting of ARD1 , ETD- 135, ETD- 151.

9. The method according to any of the preceding claims, wherein the filamentous fungal host is selected from the group consisting of the genera Acremonium, Aspergillus, Emericella, Eurotium, Fusarium, Humicola, Mucor, Myceliophthora, Neurospora, Penicillium, Eupenicillium, Thielavia, Tolypocladium, and Trichoderma.

10. The method according to claim 9, wherein the Aspergillus is selected from the group consisting of Aspergillus awamori, Aspergillus phoenicis, Aspergillus foetidus, Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus japonicus, Aspergillus aculeatus, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus nidulans or Aspergillus oryzae.

1 1. The method according to claim 10, wherein the host cell is an Aspergillus oryzae cell.

12. The method according to claim 10, wherein the host cell is an Aspergillus niger cell.

13. An Aspergillus host cell, wherein an endogenous activity has been completely or partially inactivated, and wherein the endogenous activity is encoded by: (a) the nucleotide sequence shown in SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (b) a nucleotide sequence having at least 60% identity to SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (c) a nucleotide sequence which hybridizes under at least medium stringency conditions with SEQ ID NO: 1 , or (d) a nucleotide sequence encoding a polypeptide having an amino acid sequence which has at least 70% identity with the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 2.

14. The host cell according to claim 13, wherein the Aspergillus host cell is Aspergillus oryzae.

15. The host cell according to claim 13, wherein the Aspergillus host cell is Aspergillus niger.

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