Fungi are indispensable to all life on Earth. Our forests and crops need them to flourish. Without them, we would have no coffee or chocolate, and our lives would be shorter without antibiotics.
Whereas many parts of the Tree of Life – such as plants – are increasingly well understood, the kingdom of fungi remains largely unknown.
The Discovering the Fungal Tree of Life project (DFTOL) aims to unlock the genetic information held in Kew’s Fungarium, the largest and oldest collections of fungi in the world.
The work will support a standard methodology that can be used for any fungal collection in the world. It will also help train the next generation of mycologists and extend Kew’s reach to the amateur mycologist community and beyond.
Pilot study for the Fungal Tree of Life
The early support from EET has enabled Kew to run DFTOL as a pilot study to prove the team have the key resources and capabilities in place to complete the full Fungal Tree of Life.
In the first three years of the project, the sampling and sequencing work has included over 350 lichenised fungi (including fresh samples from Mexico and Spain), historical specimens from the Natural History Museum and over 1,000 samples from Kew’s Fungarium. The metadata from sampling and molecular work will be used to uncover patterns leading to whole genome sequencing success for historic specimens.
With this groundwork in place, Kew will be able to pursue larger-scale funding from other funders who would not have otherwise supported the project in its infancy.
Inspiring the next generation of mycologists
With support from EET, Kew has recruited two new staff members to the mycology team who have been trained in the exact methodologies required to effectively sequence ancient fungal DNA. An outreach plan has increased collaboration with the amateur community – mycology enthusiasts who can help address gaps in the taxonomic knowledge.
With this increased capacity, Kew is well placed to ultimately produce and interpret the full Fungal Tree of Live and help train the next generation of mycologists.
“I really enjoyed engaging on science and education conversations with Chris and Catalina and brainstorming on how to move forward on engaging next generations in fungal science. The EET team is very hands-on and engaged with our project and they make you feel you are part of a big team!”
Dr. Ester Gaya, Senior Research Leader in Comparative Fungal Biology
A roadmap for new discoveries
All life on Earth is connected by the common thread of DNA, shaped by evolutionary processes. Evolutionary trees are powerful tools for prediction, species discovery, monitoring and conservation.
By laying the foundation for a complete Fungal Tree of Life, this project supports future work to unravel the evolutionary history of fungi, as well as discover and accelerate new applications in medicine, agriculture and conservation.