Skip to main content

UF Researchers helping in the fight for healthier environments with fungi

Matthew E. Smith and members of his team are helping to take photographs of and catalogue 2.3 million microfungi specimens for a worldwide database of mushrooms, truffles, molds and mildews, among other types of fungi. The National Science Foundation recently awarded the team more than $200,000 for their efforts.

See caption below

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Assistant Professor Matthew E. Smith is readying millions of fungi specimens for their close-ups.

He and members of his team are helping to take photographs of and catalogue 2.3 million microfungi specimens for a worldwide database of mushrooms, truffles, molds and mildews, among other types of fungi. The National Science Foundation recently awarded the team more than $200,000 for their efforts.

“A large percentage of these organisms are harmless or even beneficial, but some cause disease and death in animals, plants, and other fungi resulting in major economic loss and serious negative implications for human and ecosystem health,” said Smith. “The consolidation and increased accessibility of these data is critical to inform and promote new and innovative research, education and community engagement around this little-known but important group of organisms.”

This project is a collaborative effort involving 38 institutions in 31 states and aims to consolidate data from specimens housed in biodiversity collections.  Smith works with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Plant Pathology and is the curator of UF’s Fungal Herbarium, a collection of fungi dating back 100 years and housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. In addition, he works to identify unknown fungi.  Other members of his team include Jennifer Kluse at Louisiana State University and Marin Brewer at the University of Georgia.

Microscopic fungi are found worldwide and include bread molds, plant pathogens, powdery mildews, rusts, slime molds, and water molds. Despite their importance, little is known about their distribution, diversity, ecology, or host associations.

Smith said information generated by this project will be used to assess natural and manmade environmental changes on microfungi and the impact of these changes on the function and health of ecosystems. This project also fills a critical gap in the national digitization effort by contributing images, digitizing specimen label data, and linking associated data for more than 1.2 million North American specimens of microfungi. Additionally, scientific names and classification information will be updated to reflect the newest practices dictated by the International Codes for Nomenclature.

“These data will provide a foundation for making informed decisions by agribusinesses, educators and researchers, forest managers, governmental agencies and policymakers, along with the general public,” Smith said. “The broader education goals of this project will be developing and implementing a teaching module for high school biology on the economic importance of microfungi.”

The financial award was made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (iDigBio.org).

By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, k.moore.wilmoth@ufl.edu

Sources: Matthew E. Smith, 352-273-2837, trufflesmith@ufl.edu

Photo Caption: Matthew E. Smith and members of his team are helping to take photographs of and catalogue 2.3 million microfungi specimens for a worldwide database of mushrooms, truffles, molds and mildews, among other types of fungi. The National Science Foundation recently awarded the team more than $200,000 for their efforts.

-30-