Curious Collection: Thousands of Decay Fungi Cataloged at FPL

The Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL) Center for Mycology Research is home to one of the largest collections of wood-decay fungi in the world. The collection consists of an herbarium and a culture collection.

Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com

Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com

The herbarium serves as a national repository for wood-decay fungi collected by mycologists since the early 1900s. The fungi fruiting bodies (mainly conks, mushrooms, crusts, or stromata) are collected in the field and then dried and briefly frozen for insect control.

The culture collection is one of the largest assemblages of fungi in the world, containing about 12,000 isolates representing about 1,500 species. The collection is diverse, but primarily consists of Basidiomycetous fungi. Mycologists continuously collect new cultures of wood-decay fungi as they conduct research on fungal biodiversity throughout the world. These fungi are brought back to FPL and identified by experts, and cultures of the freshly collected fruiting bodies are made from spores, fungal tissue, or both.

The herbarium and culture collection are a valuable resource to the scientific community. Aside from contributing to further study of fungi through classification or DNA sequencing, the collection is also used in biotech applications. Examples of such work include using decay fungi to break down wood for pulp and paper or biofuels production, and for bioremediation of toxic pollutants in soil.

Wood decay fungi are also a potential source of pharmaceuticals, including cancer-fighting agents. Pharmaceutical companies have screened some of FPL’s fungi for their ability to produce chemicals that may be of use in medicine or other processes. Many opportunities exist for further work in this area.