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Not enough known about fungus -

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From mildew to mushrooms, fungi have a vital role in food security, the health of native plants,
human disease, and in recent years even forensic police work. But fungi research is often
underestimated according to David Hawksworth, the Honorary President of the International
Mycological Association.

TONY EASTLEY: They say from little things big things grow and a world expert on fungi says not
enough attention is paid to the significance of the tiny organisms.

From mildew to mushrooms, fungi have a vital role in food security, the health of native plants,
human disease, and even in recent years, forensic police work.

But fungi research is often underestimated according to David Hawksworth, the honorary president of
the International Mycological Association. He is visiting Australia this week.

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: Some of the biggest medical breakthroughs have come from the smallest of living
things but the one-and-a-half million species of fungi are not well understood - especially here.

DAVID HAWKSWORTH: It's really quite dire in that the Australians have estimated there may a quarter
of a million species in Australia but they only actually have so far documented about 15,000.

EMILY BOURKE: International mycologist David Hawksworth is from London's Natural History Museum and
he's visiting Australia to promote fungi research and preservation.

DAVID HAWKSWORTH: Virtually anything you do is affected by fungi from those things that you eat,
obviously Australia, things that you drink, plant and diseases, infections that are caused and so
on and many drugs are fungal origin. Penicillin of course is well known but more recent things like
the cyclosporines and the staph-ins have their origins in fungi.

EMILY BOURKE: The significance and applications go even further.

DAVID HAWKSWORTH: So much food production is actually lost through pest and diseases and it is
reckoned that probably about 40 per cent of world production is just lost through ravages of fungi
and insects during, while the crops are growing and also while things are in storage and shipping
and so on. And also if diseases do arise, they need to be recognised early before they spread too
far so you need to have these organisms documented so they can be recognised.

Of course, on top of that, fungi are potential in converting waste materials into food for animal
feed and so on through fermentations and of course the whole issue of growing mushrooms on waste to
help recycle the waste and also to provide food for people.

EMILY BOURKE: Professor Hawksworth will have an unlikely audience this week with the Australian
Federal Police to discuss how pollen and fungal spores can be used in crime fighting.

DAVID HAWKSWORTH: My wife Dr Wiltshire has been doing this for nearly 20 years in the UK and it is
an aspect of forensic science that has not been developed in Australia.

EMILY BOURKE: What is the success rate? How well advanced is it?

DAVID HAWKSWORTH: Basically the people pick up traces of pollen and so on as they move around and
fungal spores as they move around and these act as a sort of fingerprint for the place where people
have been, connecting people and places with individuals or bodies or whatever.

My wife Dr Wiltshire, has used it now in about 150 cases. I have been involved in about 20 and in
every one it has been very satisfactory. Often we actually get confessions from the people
involved.

EMILY BOURKE: But there's so much more to learn. Professor Hawksworth says historically mycology
has been overlooked by the science research community often absorbed into botany when it should be
regarded as a mega-science itself.

DAVID HAWKSWORTH: The idea of the mega-secience is where you need a lot of collaboration between
different bodies to actually get things done. We have such gaps in knowledge about very important
things of concern at the moment to do with things like global climate change and carbon sinks and
so on and there is virtually no information about what the situation is with fungi and what might
actually happen as things change.

And the volume potentially involved with some of these is so enormous that these are factors that
really need to be taken account into models that are produced for things like global climate
change.

TONY EASTLEY: Professor David Hawksworth. Emily Bourke with that report.