Basidiomycetes fungi of the family Ustilaginaceae are mainly known as plant pathogens causing smut disease on crops and grasses. However, they are also natural producers of value-added substances like glycolipids, organic acids, polyols, and harbor secretory enzymes with promising hydrolytic activities. These attributes recently evoked increasing interest in their biotechnological exploitation. The corn smut fungus Ustilago maydis is the best characterized member of the Ustilaginaceae. After decades of research in the fields of genetics and plant pathology, a broad method portfolio and detailed knowledge on its biology and biochemistry are available. As a consequence, U. maydis has developed into a versatile model organism not only for fundamental research but also for applied biotechnology. Novel genetic, synthetic biology, and process development approaches have been implemented to engineer yields and product specificity as well as for the expansion of the repertoire of produced substances. Furthermore, research on U. maydis also substantially promoted the interest in other members of the Ustilaginaceae, for which the available tools can be adapted. Here, we review the latest developments in applied research on Ustilaginaceae towards their establishment as future biotech cell factories.

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