The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in partnership with the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute in Bogotá Colombia have set up an online resource for collecting information on Colombia’s fungi. The initiative seeks to not only track and protect the country’s biodiversity, but also investigate fungi’s potential uses – including biofuel.
The site – dubbed ColFungi.org – follows the sister platform ColPlantA, which collects information on plants in the country. Both are part of the Useful Plants and Fungi of Colombia (UPFC) project, a scheme set up to ‘motivate the sustainable use of biodiversity whilst protecting the surrounding natural resources’. The project is expected to play out over the next two and a half years.
While mushrooms have played a central role in the diets of the country’s local communities, little research has so far been done into its use outside of being a food source.
Rot fungi has been examined as a potential producer of bioethanol, while the antimicrobial activity of another mushroom species has been evaluated as an organic plant pesticide.
This is not the first time rot fungi have been investigated as a biofuel source, with 2020 studies from the University of Helsinki finding that the rot fungus wrinkled crust produced significant amounts of ethanol from waste materials including recycled wood and straw. The process relies on the fungi’s ability to rot the waste material in oxygen-free conditions, creating ethanol as a by-product.
In identifying and categorising fungi species in Colombia, researchers hope they will similarly be able to unearth clean fuel applications – contributing to the country’s bioeconomy through understanding and protecting its biodiversity.
While Colombia plays host to almost 10% of the world’s biodiversity, research into its fungi remains underdeveloped when compared to other countries. For example, the UK has 18,000 recorded species of fungi, while Colombia has only 7,273 catalogued.
The ColFungi website is intended to rectify this gap in knowledge – providing a data-driven resource backed by the expertise of Colombian mycologists. Scientists from 22 Colombian, British and German institutions also contributed to building the site.