Fungal spots on a protea leaf. Click the
image for more information about it.
story to find out more.
Scientists Help Experts Recognize Foreign Fungi
By Erin Peabody
March 10, 2004
By hitching a ride on plants, fruits
and other agricultural materials, potentially harmful fungi from around the
globe can enter the United States--and maybe even reach your backyard. But a
cadre of scientists with the Agricultural
Research Service is standing close by, ready to help the experts identify
these fungal intruders.
Amy Y. Rossman and other ARS mycologists at the agency's Systematic Botany
and Mycology Laboratory (SBML) in Beltsville,
Md., provide support to other U.S. Department of
Agriculture scientists who are charged with identifying suspect fungi
intercepted during inspection at U.S. ports.
The reason for such vigilance? Some fungi have the potential, if left
unchecked, to cost American agriculture and horticulture industries millions of
dollars in damage control. Eight years ago, a mystery fungus on wheat plants
nearly froze U.S. exports of the crop, until ARS researchers discovered that
the organism was just a lookalike of the more serious Karnal bunt fungus.
Mary E. Palm, national mycologist for USDA's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, is the point person for suspicious fungi that elude identifiers at
the country's borders. She is based at the ARS laboratory in Beltsville for
access to its top-notch mycologists, fungal collections and databases. The
National Fungus Collections, part of SBML, are the largest reference
collection of fungi in the world.
Currently, fungi found on flowers of the family Proteaceae are a focus of
Palm and her ARS colleagues. Striking and colorful, proteas are a fast-growing
enterprise for the U.S. cut flower industry and for small growers in South
Africa and Australia, where the flowers are indigenous. The USDA experts,
through their identifications and descriptions of protea fungi, are helping to
facilitate the flow of safe and usable plants between countries.
about the research in the March issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.