It might have the word “fun” in the name, but that doesn’t stop fungus from getting a bad rap. When the subject of plants and fungus comes up, it’s usually about disease and contamination. But fungus definitely has a whole “fun” world to explore and is actually essential to the ecosystem.
Millennium Seed Bank
The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), located in England on the grounds of Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, is the largest in the world, with over 2.3 billion seeds from almost 40,000 species. That’s over 15% of the world’s wild plant species, and the numbers continue to grow!
And while they’ve been storing seeds for over two decades, they’ve also discovered that they’ve been storing many fungi inside all of the seeds.
The amount of fungus in our ecosystem is impressive. The latest research puts the number of fungal species up around 6 million – with some estimates going even higher, making for about 15 times more fungi than plant species on the planet.
Considering scientists have only found 150,000 fungi species, there are plenty more to identify, many of which will surely hold some precious information. This brings us back to the MSB and recent fungi research.
Gut health has been a medical buzzword in recent years, and you might have heard the term “gut microbiome,” which refers to the microorganisms living in your intestines.
We have hundreds of various species of bacteria living in our intestinal tract, many of which are incredibly beneficial. Maintaining these good bacteria can have an impact on everything from enhancing your immune system to combating obesity.
Similar to humans and animals, plant tissues also have various microorganisms inside of them.
After months of painstakingly sterilizing seeds and filling Petri dishes, researchers found hundreds of fungal endophytes hidden inside the seeds at the MSB.
The endophytes don’t seem to cause any outward symptoms of disease or distress and live, unnoticed, inside the plants.
Some of these fungi could be destructive pathogens just lying dormant and waiting for their opportunity to cause damage. But there’s also the possibility that some of them are essential to maintaining and improving the plant’s health.
Current estimates suggest two in five plants are threatened with extinction. Studying and learning more about the traits of various endophytes, particularly the positive ones, could be very important for the future of many plants and crops on our planet.