Mushrooms: DNA

Undiscovered Fungi

JM: Seventy-five years ago, the study of a fungus yielded the drug penicillin Today, DNA testing offers a whole new opportunity to explore these organisms which are still not well understood. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Rytas Vilgalys is a Professor of Biology at Duke University.

RV: “The current estimate is that there are about 1.6 million species and we only know about 100,000 of those species. So there’s a huge effort underway right now to try to enumerate and identify all the fungi that exists all over the world.”

JM: Many of these fungi are dependent upon plants to exist, making it hard to study an individual fungus on its own.

RV: “We’ve known for some time that there are fungi living inside plant roots and plant stems and leaves as well. Until recently we had to culture them to study them. Problem is, that if you rely on your host for some specific nutrient or specific physiological conditions to grow, you can’t be cultured. So using DNA methods we can detect these fungi when they’re present. We wouldn’t ordinarily be able to tell that they’re there.”

JM: DNA studies are giving scientists a new appreciation of fungi and the role they play in nourishing plants through their root systems.

RV: “Using DNA sequences now we might be able to identify undiscovered groups of fungi which are out there. And in some recent work that I’ve done, we’ve found that easily more than half of the microorganisms that are in the soil are fungi, and a good proportion of those are beneficial species.”

Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research. I’m Jim Metzner.

Mushrooms: DNA

Thanks to DNA testing, scientists are learning that the majority of micororganisms in soil are fungi which bring vital elements to plant life.
Air Date:11/06/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:

Undiscovered Fungi

JM: Seventy-five years ago, the study of a fungus yielded the drug penicillin Today, DNA testing offers a whole new opportunity to explore these organisms which are still not well understood. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Rytas Vilgalys is a Professor of Biology at Duke University.

RV: "The current estimate is that there are about 1.6 million species and we only know about 100,000 of those species. So there's a huge effort underway right now to try to enumerate and identify all the fungi that exists all over the world."

JM: Many of these fungi are dependent upon plants to exist, making it hard to study an individual fungus on its own.

RV: "We've known for some time that there are fungi living inside plant roots and plant stems and leaves as well. Until recently we had to culture them to study them. Problem is, that if you rely on your host for some specific nutrient or specific physiological conditions to grow, you can't be cultured. So using DNA methods we can detect these fungi when they're present. We wouldn't ordinarily be able to tell that they're there."

JM: DNA studies are giving scientists a new appreciation of fungi and the role they play in nourishing plants through their root systems.

RV: "Using DNA sequences now we might be able to identify undiscovered groups of fungi which are out there. And in some recent work that I've done, we've found that easily more than half of the microorganisms that are in the soil are fungi, and a good proportion of those are beneficial species."

Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research. I'm Jim Metzner.