Unique fungi collection gains national attention
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012
Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2012 23:03
There is fungus among us.
West Virginia University is home to more than 1,200 cultures of fungi used to help defend plants throughout the world and perform research to learn more about how fungi and plants function together.
"There is nothing else like it in the world. Most plants can’t live without these fungi. In areas like the tropics, it is absolutely necessary to have these fungi for plants to grow," said Joseph Morton, professor of plant and soil sciences in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources & Design.
Morton is the owner and caretaker of the world’s largest collection of arbuscular endomycorrhizal fungi, characterized by the formation of unique structures such as arbuscules and vesicles, which aid plants in capturing nutrients such as phosphorus, sulfur, nitrogen and micronutrients from the soil.
Morton said the collection is sponsored and funded by the National Science Foundation, and WVU maintains the funding and collection for academic and research purposes.
"The collection belongs to the public. We develop it and maintain it," he said.
He said WVU houses the fungi because of the extensive process of growing it.
"This fungi is very difficult to grow. You have to take it out of the soil and go through a very specific procedure. It takes about four months to get a culture you can use. There aren’t many people who have the facilities or people to maintain a collection like this, so they come to us for the materials they can use to do experiments or study," Morton said.
He said WVU provides the fungi to researchers, start-up companies and high school students and teachers for learning purposes.
"This is a very unique resource. It makes these resources available to researchers, students and lay-persons – really anyone who wants to know more about it," Morton said. "We get requests for the fungi almost every week. We’re always in conversation with people. There’s always someone I’m emailing or someone emailing me about it."
He said it was important for the University to keep the collection available to researchers in order to understand its role in agricultural usage and conservation.
"Research is being done to maximize the usage of these fungi and understand how fungi and plants live together," he said. "It’s used pretty extensively."
He said the collection has grown from 84 cultures of fungi to 1,200 cultures since its addition to the University in 1990.
"It has really grown a lot, and the demand for these cultures has grown quite a bit too," Morton said.