Aberdeen scientists to uncover unknown fungi in buildings

Aberdeen scientists to uncover unknown fungi in buildings

Researchers to develop database facilities that will allow users to identify previously unknown fungi in buildings.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have received $335K from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in the US for a project to develop database facilities that will allow users to identify previously unknown fungi in buildings.

 Fungi are found throughout all continents and ecosystems, including the built environment, where they are generally unwanted as they can damage building structures and be harmful to human and animal health. One of the greatest hurdles in dealing with fungi in buildings is to identify which species are actually present. With an estimated 1.5 million different species of fungi in existence, this is no small task.

University of Aberdeen scientists, in collaboration with teams at the Universities of Gothenburg (Sweden) and Tartu (Estonia), will further develop the UNITE database, which is currently used globally to identify fungal species in outdoor environments using DNA barcoding.  The new funding will support work on a similar facility to identify indoor fungi.

Dr Andy Taylor, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, is the Principal Investigator on the project, alongside Professor Urmas  Kõljalg from the University of Tartu and Dr Henrik Nilsson from the University of Gothenburg.

Dr Taylor said: “Fungi within buildings are still rather unknown territory as there are simply so many species that we don’t know and which have yet to be identified.

“The project calls for us to generate new data on the major fungal species found in the built environment and develop the tools to be able to compare this reference data with that from unknown samples from buildings. The data are effectively barcodes - short pieces of DNA specific to individual fungal species. The fungal barcodes are just like those you scan to identify your shopping items. By extracting DNA from fungi in buildings, we will be able to compare this with the reference barcodes in the database and so identify which fungi are present. 

“This funding will also allow us to host two workshops – one in Aberdeen and another in Gothenburg. This will bring experts from all around the world together, which is an extremely exciting prospect.”