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A High Demand
for Fungi in ARSEF Collection
By Luis Pons
April 7, 2003
How highly would you value a space that
houses at least 6,500 individual fungi?
Agricultural Research Service insect
mycologist Richard Humber considers his space priceless. He's curator of the
Agricultural Research Service's Collection of Entomopathogenic Fungal Cultures
in Ithaca, N.Y.
It's easy to agree with Humber, once you realize that ARSEF is the largest
collection of its type in the world. It houses specimens vital to the
protection of important plants from destructive and invasive insects, mites,
spiders, nematodes and other invertebrates. In fact, it is one of the world's
centers for acquiring and distributing fungal strains for use as possible
biological control agents. These could help replace pesticides, many of which
have been phased out because of environmental concerns.
Among Humber's samples, most of which are kept inside three liquid-nitrogen
tanks at a temperature of -196 degrees Celcius, are isolates from more than 425
fungal species from every continent. Represented are 1,400 different locations
and 1,000 different hosts--a high proportion of all fungal species known to
It is a complex facility equipped to examine and isolate specimens and to
identify and distribute them. Shipping, receiving, and cataloging are as big a
part of the operation as is research. Humber collaborates with scientists from
more than 80 nations, including Brazil, China and Russia.
The lab has its rare specimens, including the only known collected samples
of Neozygites tanajoae, a significant pathogen of cassava green mites in
However, it is the common fungi that are most valuable because they have the
widest host range and are easiest to grow, formulate and apply. Within this
group are Beauveria bassiana, probably the most important fungus in the
collection. Strains of it have infected nearly every insect pest against which
it has been tested.
More information about ARSEF can be found in the
April 2003 issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.