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‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: our lives depend on the hidden kingdom – Fungi’

Life on earth depends upon fungi. Of a predicted 1.5 million species, so far only about 100,000 have been described and named. This fact in itself indicates the crucial need for fungal taxonomists

Fungi are often thought of as ‘those organisms that poison us if we eat them, rot our food and homes, cause diseases of our plants and even us’. However, without them we would not exist. Plants first colonized land 600 to 800 million years ago, with the aid of mutualist fungi. Now, about 90% of terrestrial plants obtain their nutrients and water from soil through fungi associated mutualistically with their roots (mycorrhizas). These same fungi offer protection from pathogens and allow plants to colonize polluted sites. Furthermore, fungi are the main garbage disposal agents and nutrient recyclers of the natural world. By rotting dead organic matter they make nutrients available to plants and animals alike, and provide important sources of nutrition including to humans. Obvious examples are bread, beer and wine, cheese, non-soya meat substitutes, such as Quorn. Less obvious is that fungi are essential for chocolate production, actually producing the characteristic flavour; they also make the acidity regulator citric acid used in soft drinks and pharmaceuticals. Almost unrecognised are the anaerobic chytrid fungi that enable herbivorous animals to thrive on the plants they eat; without fungi - no meat, no milk, no wool, no leather and no herbivores. Fungi have also provided us with antibiotics, e.g. penicillin, and many other ‘wonder drugs’ of the twenty-first century including the statins, to control cholesterol (the most widely used pharmaceuticals in the developed world), and cyclosporine, which prevents transplant tissue rejection. Fungi also contribute to the production of steroid contraceptives and anti-inflamatories.
Of a predicted 1.5 million species, so far only about 100,000 have been described and named. This fact in itself indicates the crucial need for fungal taxonomists. The relative neglect of fungal science, including taxonomy, means that there is insufficient expertise in areas of direct and indirect concern to humans, including biodeterioration, food safety, plant diseases, human health, discovery of novel chemical compounds, conservation and ecosystem function.

Lynne Boddy is Professor of Mycology at Cardiff University, and is also President of the British Mycological Society. With over 30 years research experience and over 250 scientific publications, including several books, Lynne is one of the world’s leading fungal ecologists. Her work focuses largely on the ecology of wood decay basidiomycete fungi (those commonly seen fruiting as toadstools, brackets etc.) that play crucial roles in recycling nutrients in forests. She has been foremost in investigating how fungal communities change in wood, how fungi interact with one another and with invertebrates, and how fungi grow out of wood in search of new resources.
Lynne is currently the chief (and founding) editor of Fungal Ecology and is or has served on the editorial boards of the journals Fungal Biology Reviews, Mycological Research, Microbial Ecology, FEMS Microbiology Ecology and Ecological Informatics. She has served on a variety of committees of the Natural Environment Research Council, organised numerous scientific meetings for the British Mycological Society, and is becoming increasingly involved in fungal education and outreach activities, including this years gold medal winning British Mycological Society exhibit at the Chelsea show.


Professor Lynne Boddy | talks


Date and Time:

23 October 2009 at 6:30 pm


2 hours



Birkbeck University of London
43 Gordon Square

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Organised by:

Ecology and Conservation Studies Society
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Available from:

E-mail: environmentevents@FLL.bbk.ac.uk for booking and venue details. (tel: 020 7631 6473)

Additional Information:

Booking essential. Doors open at 6.00pm
This is one of six lectures on consecutive Friday evenings from 16 October to 20 November inclusive, on the subject of 'What's in a Name? - Taxonomy and Biodiversity' Saving our Experts from Extinction
Full details of all speakers and their lectures are available at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/environment/news/lectures

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