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CABI scientists have shared their expertise, along with over 200 others researchers from around the world, as part of Royal Botanical Gardens Kew’s ‘State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020’ report released today (Wednesday 30 September).

Dr Matthew Ryan, Curator of CABI’s Culture Collection, and Dr David Smith, Director, Biological Resources at CABI, are among 210 researchers from 42 countries who have contributed to the report which suggests that ‘failure to tap into the myriad uses of plants and fungi is costing people and planet.’

The report, to be followed by a special symposium between 13-15 October featuring Dr Ryan who will join a panel talking about why culture collections are important for averting biodiversity loss, it is the first time plants and fungi have been combined in one global State of the World’s assessment.

The major survey is underpinned by the publication of 12 papers, which Dr Ryan and Dr Smith have also contributed to, made freely available in the leading journal Plants, People, Planet.

Dr Ryan, who is curates a culture collection which boasts 30,000 strains from over 140 countries including 2,900 that originate from Africa, says the role fungi play in feeding the world should not be underestimated.

Dr Ryan said, “Quite simply, the fungi and their role in the food chain is vital to global food security but the vast majority of countries in the developing world simply do not have the infrastructure in place to manage and operate their own culture collections.”

In the future, fungi are likely to play a major role within bioenergy (Credit - RBG Kew)

In the future, fungi are likely to play a major role within bioenergy (Credit – RBG Kew).

The report adds that plants and fungi are the building blocks of life on planet Earth. They have the potential to solve urgent problems that threaten human life, but these vital resources are being compromised by biodiversity loss.

The report highlights the pressing need to explore the solutions that plants and fungi could provide, to address some of the pressures facing people and planet. It states that we face a ‘race against time’ in pace of finding, naming and conserving species that can serve both as food and medicines.

In this respect, CABI has been at the forefront of examining the challenges and opportunities of putting fungal biological resources right at the centre of supporting international development – as outlined in a paper by Dr Ryan and Dr Smith in the World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology.

Dr Smith, specifically, has also been involved in CABI’s compliance with the Nagoya Protocol, now ratified by 127 countries, which aims to ensure that benefits arising from use of countries’ genetic resources are shared while recognising differences in interpretation and implementation mean that it has resulted in unintended regulatory barriers.

“A more urgent challenge remains in finding funding for Biological Resource Centres to underpin research and good science which compete against perceived greater priorities such as food security or academic research,” Dr Smith said. “Innovative funding mechanisms and efficiencies in coordination and management are required to secure the microbial resources on which these depend.”

Other highlights of RBG Kew’s State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report include the fact that 723 of the plants we use for medicine are at risk of extinction, 2 in 5 plants are threatened by extinction, significant knowledge gaps in biodiversity in the UK and its overseas territories need addressing and 4,000 newly named species – found in 2019 – offer the potential for new foods, medicines and timber.

Additional information

This story was adapted from a press release issued by RBG Kew which can be read in full here.

To download a copy of the ‘State of the World’s Plants and Fungi Report’, please click here.

Find out more about the associated ‘State of the World’s Plants and Fungi Virtual Symposium’ to be held between 13-15 October 2020 here.

See also the blog ‘Food for thought: Fungal biological resources to support international development – challenges and opportunities.’