Kew's fungi collection mushrooms to over 1 million specimens in its 250th anniversary year.
Press release, 12 January 2009
In its 250th year the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) is set to become home to the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of fungi – over one million specimens including mushrooms, moulds and other microfungi.
In a move that will help maintain the future of the taxonomic study of fungi in the UK , RBG Kew and CABI are merging their fungal reference collections at Kew, to take place by the end of January 2009. The announcement is good news for an area of fungal science facing a crisis in funding and staffing.
Two senior research scientists from CABI are also joining RBG Kew's mycology team, increasing the number of senior scientists at Kew who are experts in fungal taxonomy and systematics to five. There are now fewer than 10 such mycologists, scientists who study fungi, in the United Kingdom.
Defra is supporting the merger with a grant of £250,000.
Professor Mark Chase, Keeper of the Jodrell Laboratory at RBG Kew, said: “Fungi are present in every type of habitat throughout the world and are essential for many plants to grow. For the well-being of the planet it is absolutely vital that we keep taxonomic skills and expertise in mycology alive in the UK . “If we do not understand the world of fungi, then our ability to repair and restore damaged habitats is considerably reduced. There is also great potential in mycology for environmentally friendly biofuels if we can understand and harness the chemicals some fungi produce to decay plant materials.”
Dr Joan Kelley, Executive Director of Bioservices at CABI said: “CABI is entrusting its specimen collection to Kew and co-locating staff in order to optimise expertise in fungal systematics. This collaboration is an important partnership that will bring together both specimen collections in a central location making it easier for the research community to access this resource. ”
CABI will be retaining its collection of more than 28,000 preserved living cultures which will be strengthened by the addition of a collection of living specimens from Kew . CABI will be stepping up its activities to screen these microorganisms for biological activity in the search for new antibiotics and nutraceuticals.
Sustainable Development Minister Lord Hunt said: “The enhanced collection of fungi at Kew Gardens is an important resource for taxonomic research – a scientific discipline which is absolutely fundamental to our understanding of the natural world. “I appreciate and admire Kew 's continuing contribution to science and am glad we can support it to do even more.”
RBG Kew's mycology collection in the Jodrell Laboratory is already home to over 800,000 specimens of fungi. This includes the larger species such as mushrooms, toadstools and puffballs, as well as the myriad of microfungi found in all habitats from the tropics to the poles. The collection is world-wide in scope and rich in historic specimens such as those collected by one of Britain 's greatest scientists, Charles Darwin.
The CABI collection moving to RBG Kew consists of about 400,000 dried specimens, including plant disease-causing fungi such as moulds, mildews, rusts and smuts. It comprises important historical material including a specimen of Sir Alexander Fleming's penicillin-producing culture, 138 specimens of the potato blight organism and the key reference sample of the Dutch elm disease that changed the face of the English landscape in the 1970s.
The decline in the number of scientists in the UK who can identify and describe new species of fungi is highlighted in a new report, Saving the Forgotten Kingdom, published today by Plantlife on behalf of the Fungus Conservation Forum (FCF). RBG Kew and CABI are member organisations of the FCF.
The report calls for the provision of apprenticeships for young people so that there is increased training in mycology. It also highlights the importance of investment in fungal taxonomy, supplying the basic data needed for all work on fungi, in order to make it possible to meet targets outlined in existing conservation strategies such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.
- Professor Mark Chase, Keeper of the Jodrell at RBG Kew and RBG Kew's Head of Mycology, Dr Brian Spooner are available for interview. Please contact the RBG Kew press office, tel +44 (0)20 8332 5607, email email@example.com. For out of hours queries please call tel +44 (0)20 8332 5000
- Dr Joan Kelley, Executive Director, Bioservices, CABI is also available for interview on tel +44 (0) 1491 829 057, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- For more information about CABI please contact Sarah Wilson, PR and Corporate Communications Manager, tel +44 (0)1491 829 361, mob +44 (0)7516 928 845, email email@example.com
- Images are available to download from http://www.kew.org/press/images/fungi.html (please contact the RBG Kew press office for a password).
- For a copy of Saving the Forgotten Kingdom : A Strategy for the conservation of the UK 's Fungi (2008 – 2015) please contact Joanna Bromley at the Plantlife press office on tel +44 (0)1722 342 739, email Joanna.firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
RBG Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and fungi, world-class herbarium and scientific expertise in plant and fungal diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world.
Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction, and its 132 hectares of landscaped gardens attract over one million visitors per year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2009. For more information www.kew.org.
CABI is a not-for-profit, science-based development and information organisation with nine centres worldwide. CABI's mission and direction is influenced by its 44 member countries that help guide the organisation's activities. These include projects and consultancy, information for development, scientific publishing and mycological services. For more information www.cabi.org
The Fungus Conservation Forum is a network of organisations working for the conservation of fungi across the UK. It has 17 member organisations representing the field mycological community, non-government organisations, scientific societies and statutory organisations.
Despite the efforts of mycologists and the importance of fungi ecologically worldwide and in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, biotechnology, food and soil science, only an estimated 5 % of species have been described. Estimates suggest that over 1.5 million species of fungi exist.
Kew 's Jodrell Laboratory is not the only home to fungi at RBG Kew. Some 2,700 species are growing in the grounds of Kew Gardens.
Taxonomy is the science dealing with the description, identification, naming, and classification of organisms.
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