Killer fungi

Agricultural Research Service fungi experts have identified new fungal species that scientists at several U.S. laboratories are testing as biocontrols for some of the United States ' major invasive weeds.

American farmers and homeowners spend millions to control weeds and other organisms introduced from foreign countries. With the increase in international trade and travel, the number of outside species becoming established in this country is growing every year. Fungi provide a vast arsenal of ammunition to control noxious weeds--both established and newly arrived--that invade roadsides, rangelands and waterways, crowding out useful and native plants.

ARS mycologist Amy Y. Rossman, who heads the Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., says that fungi are among the most biologically diverse organisms on Earth. Once discovered and characterized, many previously unknown species can be put to work.

ARS mycologist David F. Farr at Rossman 's lab is curator of the ARS-Smithsonian U.S. National Fungus Collections maintained at Beltsville. Farr uses the 1 million fungal specimens in the collection to discover, name, scientifically describe and classify agriculturally important fungi.

Once characterized, the weed-control potential of these organisms can be tested in field and lab experiments. Farr recently discovered several fungi--two new to science-- that may offer nonchemical control of ragweed, purple loosestrife, kudzu and morning glory. They are being tested at several ARS research laboratories in the United States.

For more details on this research, see the November 2001 issue of Agricultural Research magazine at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/index.html

Source: Jennifer Arnold, USDA—ARS.

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