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China leads in discovery of new fungi species

By Bo Leung in London | China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-12 21:56

More than 2,000 new species of fungi were discovered in 2017, with China leading the way in new findings, but more than 2 million are still unknown to science.

That's according to the first ever report on the state of the world's fungi compiled by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the United Kingdom,highlighting the importance of fungi to life on earth.

The botanical research and education institution in southwest London said its latest report involved more than 100 scientists from 18 countries and looks at the way fungi help provide food, drinks, medicine and plant nutrition.

"China is leading in the discovery of new fungal species with 362 found in 2017," said Rui Fang, research scientist at Kew and lead author on the China focus chapter.

The report found that there are 1,789 edible and 798 medicinal fungi from China.

The country is the largest edible mushroom producer in the world, producing 38.42 million metric tons annually, 75 percent of the global output.

This has provided more than 25 million jobs and generated an export income of $3.84 billion in 2017.

In China, there are 3,052 species of lichen, an association between a fungus and an alga. This fungal species can be extremely drought tolerant and it could help to combat desertification.

Up to 58 percent of land area in China is classified as arid or semi-arid, with nearly one-third of the land suffering from the effects of desertification.

"What Kew is trying to do is promote the protection and conservation work on fungi and to raise awareness of their importance. There are over 93 percent of fungi species still unknown to science," said Fang. "This knowledge can be utilised to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity such as climate change, food security and human health."

"Kew is building key relationships with China. Scientists, mycologists and professionals collaborate in research projects and tackling global issues," Fang added.

The report also shows how a type of fungus can break down some plastics in weeks rather than years, which Kew said "has potential to be developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste."

The plastic-eating fungus was discovered by a team of Chinese scientists on a rubbish dump in Pakistan last year.

The report also highlights the importance of fungi in the production of food and drinks, such as the yeast in bread and alcoholic drinks. Fungi are also hailed for their medical use in drugs such as penicillin.

But some can be dangerous to ecosystems.The spread of fungal pathogens can be devastating to crops and wild plants.

Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew said: "In compiling this report, it has become clear that fungi should be viewed on par with the plant and animal kingdoms, and that we have only just started to uncover the secrets of this incredible and diverse group of organisms."

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