U.S. National Fungus Collection Available on WebBy Hank Becker
July 17, 1998
If it's a fungus and it's connected to farming, you can now look it up--anytime--on the World Wide Web. That's because the Agricultural Research Service has posted to the web its new, computerized database for the world's largest collection of agriculturally important fungi.
The web address is:
The new database compiled by ARS mycologists (fungal experts) holds records for 650,000 specimens. These agriculturally important fungi are among more than a million specimens in the combined U.S. National Fungus Collections of ARS and the Smithsonian Institution.
Recently, an ARS collaborator using the ARS collections became the first to extract nucleic acids from old, dry specimens of the fungus that causes potato late blight. This fungus caused the Irish potato famine in the 19th century. It recently re-emerged as a serious pathogen in the U.S. Extracting the specimen's DNA now allows scientists to compare blight fungi's genetic changes through time and space.
ARS maintains the collections at its Beltsville, Md., Agricultural Research Center. The collections contain fungi that dwell on plants, insects and even on other fungi. According to Amy Y. Rossman, who leads ARS' Systematic Mycology and Botany Laboratory, many of the specimens represent first-ever collections of their species. Some were collected hundreds of years ago.
The fungal treasure trove represents the standard or true measure for defining what constitutes a particular species.
The database holds all important data about each specimen, including who collected it, where, and when; what it lives on, and who has looked at it. In addition to scientists, it is a valuable resource for regulatory agencies, policy makers and others.
Scientific contact: Amy Y. Rossman, ARS Systematic Mycology and Botany Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-5364, fax (301) 504-5810, firstname.lastname@example.org.