Berkeley -- In the storerooms of a Venice, Italy, museum, a University of California, Berkeley, scholar and Italian experts are at work on a rare collection, but the objects aren't Renaissance paintings or the art of ancient glassblowers. Instead, the team is collecting samples from the largest and best preserved collection of fungi in Italy to create an unprecedented DNA database.
These 28,000 samples of fungi that represent 6,000 species - many of which are quite rare - are housed at the Venice Museum of Natural History, a partner with UC Berkeley for this ambitious project. The collection also is one of the largest in Europe.
The project was publicly announced in Italy today (Wednesday, Dec. 13) at the prestigious Venetian Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts.
"We are building up a huge molecular database that will be available to the entire scientific community," said Matteo Garbelotto, UC Berkeley adjunct associate professor of ecosystem sciences and principal investigator of the project. "In addition to aiding research on the productivity of forests and agricultural ecosystems, this database will greatly aid the diagnosis of plant diseases."
Fungi are a kingdom of organisms that include yeasts, mushrooms and mold. They are essential to most terrestrial ecosystems, channeling nutrients in the soil and making them available for the growth of plants, including trees and agricultural crops. "Without fungi, there would be no forests," Garbelotto pointed out.
A large number of fungi are also plant pathogens and cause serious diseases of crops and trees, especially when transported to new areas of the world through the global trade of goods and movement of people. In addition, some species of fungi can lead to human illness, including pneumonia, skin infections, allergies and asthma.
Garbelotto is perhaps best known for his work in the identification of Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus-like plant patho
Contact: Sarah Yang
University of California - Berkeley