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article imageTracking down the extent of fungal diversity

By Tim Sandle     Mar 25, 2016 in Science
Fungi are part of their own biological kingdom, yet little is known about the extent and diversity of the eukaryotic organisms. Experts think there are millions of undescribed fungi, found in different locations around the world.
Many of the undefined fungi have been captured in databases held in laboratories around the world. The process of sequencing the collected DNA is complex and it could be several decades before the full details of the different fungi can be revealed. Of the millions of fungi around the globe (upwards to 6 million on current estimates), only 100,000 species have been accurately described and placed into a taxonomic group. The numbers of potential fungi in the world increases as more data is gathered through the use of molecular biology methods.
Frustrated by this lack of progress, a research group is planning to select the key fungi that scientists know little about (and which the researchers feel biologists should do, as a consequence of medical or industrial importance.) The researchers hope this will trigger greater characterization and identifications of fungi.
Fungi are district from plants, bacteria and animals. The kingdom is made up of unicellular microorganisms like yeasts and molds (filamentous fungi); plus multicellular fungi, like mushrooms and toadstools, which have distinctive fruiting bodies.
One of the reasons for the slow progress in identifying fungi, other than research time, is the complexity surrounding fungal taxonomy and DNA sequencing in relation to the presence of environmental substrates, like soil and water.
An international research group have developed a search function in the UNITE database for molecular identification of fungi. UNITE is a molecular database for the identification of ectomycorrhizal fungi (‘ectomycorrhizal” is a term describing the symbiotic relationship that occurs between a fungus and the roots of various plant species.) The function is designed to highlight those that the scientific community knows least about, and to push forward with identification of the organisms. They have dubbed this the "50 Most Wanted Fungi."
The database search and research aims are presented in the journal MycoKeys. The paper is appropriately titled “Top 50 most wanted fungi.”
More about Fungi, Fungus, Yeast, Microbes, molecular biology
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