March 28, 2012
BRANDON, MB — Brandon University’s Dr. Wendy Untereiner and Dr. Mesfine Bogale are two of more than 140 authors of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), one of the world’s top scientific journals. Their paper, entitled “Nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region as a universal DNA barcode marker for Fungi”, is a landmark contribution that establishes the internal transcribed spacer, one of six DNA regions evaluated, as a best genetic marker for identifying fungi. Dr. Untereiner, a mycologist specializing in the study of the relationships among fungi, and Dr. Bogale, a post-doctoral researcher in her lab from 2008 to 2011, added their findings – DNA sequences of six genes for 12 strains representing five species – to those of the other mycologists from around the globe who comprise the Fungal Barcoding Consortium.
“A barcode is a DNA sequence that you can use for the identification of fungi. They are important for researchers who study ecology and biodiversity. Barcodes have been adopted for animals and plants, but one had never been the established for the fungi,” said Dr. Untereiner, who was contacted by the lead author and project principal, Conrad Schoch of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, to generate and contribute data to the project. “Informally, mycologists — people who study fungi — have been using the ITS, but there has never been a careful comparison of this region to other potential barcodes to determine if the ITS is actually better than other ribosomal or protein-coding gene regions. We were part of a community wide effort that tested the usefulness of the ITS as the barcode for fungi.”
Mycologists from 73 research centres, federal laboratories and universities in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania were invited to participate in the project. In Canada, two federal laboratories and three universities — Brandon University being one of the three — were asked to contribute data for this project. Other research institutes involved in this project included the Smithsonian Institute, the Chinese Academy of Science, the RIKEN Bioresource Centre in Japan, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, the Agroscope Changins-Wädenswil Research Station in Switzerland.
“It’s my understanding that the analytical team initially analyzed nearly 8,000 sequences, most of which were generated for this project. It was a huge effort. Each researcher who contributed sequence data is an expert in the identification and naming of a particular group of fungi, so it’s unlikely that all of the sequences analyzed could have been generated by a single research laboratory or institute,” said Dr. Untereiner, who added that it took two months to collect and confirm the data that she and Dr. Bogale contributed. “It’s good to finally establish the ITS as the best barcode for most fungi. Mesfin and I are really pleased to have been part of this international effort.”
The paper, for which Dr. Untereiner is listed as an author, is now available to read via the online version of the magazine at
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