The Lost and Found Fungi (LAFF) project have been travelling the country, teaching fungal enthusiasts DNA barcoding… With attention to detail, and a little luck, the protocols have been teaching allow you to read the DNA of the life around us.
In this particular case Brian and myself of Kew’s Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded community project have been using the BentoLab to sequence DNA of fungi collected by local enthusiasts. This is a kingdom full of mimics and species complexes and of all known methods to identify them, the most conclusive is reading their DNA.
This is particularly the case for microfungi – these microscopic lifeforms grow on our skin, in our guts, and on the life and minerals around us.
Many enthusiasts already have good knowledge of where to find fungi, many also have mircosopes – enabling the beauty of minute fungal structures to be revealed and allowing escape to this tiny, beautiful world. Some even have their own databased fungi collections! For a quarter of a century, however, we have had the ability to go one step further and view the most basic building blocks of life – DNA – using DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and DNA sequencing.
These steps are now possible to do in your home, with the BentoLab equipment (costing no more than a decent microscope (£1500)). Brian and I have been spreading the good fungal word; delivering workshops with the British Mycological Society (BMS) across the UK to show community groups the possibilities, and train them as molecular biologists.
We have worked hard to ensure the solutions, reagents, and buffers, required to break down tissues, expose and amplify DNA, are harmless – providing you take some minor precautions. It’s necessary to sterilise all equipment to prevent cross-contamination of DNA.
By 2020 LAFF will have engaged regional groups in England, Scotland, and Wales; teaching key community members how to use the BentoLab, supporting them with small grant applications, and leaving some budget for the final molecular step – DNA sequencing.