B.C. scientist and UBC professor Shannon Berch has been leading a project that looks closely at what types of fungi grow on the roots of Garry oak trees. Metchosin mycologist Andy MacKinnon, who has been helping with the study, shared that samples from the roots of Garry oaks have revealed some species which don’t match any other in published literature. This suggests they may have found some species that are new to science. (Photo by Shlomo Shalev/Unsplash)

B.C. scientist and UBC professor Shannon Berch has been leading a project that looks closely at what types of fungi grow on the roots of Garry oak trees. Metchosin mycologist Andy MacKinnon, who has been helping with the study, shared that samples from the roots of Garry oaks have revealed some species which don’t match any other in published literature. This suggests they may have found some species that are new to science. (Photo by Shlomo Shalev/Unsplash)

Scientists discover potential new mushroom species on Island’s Garry oak roots

Metchosin mycologist Andy MacKinnon co-authored a new book on fungi, to be released in summer

Exciting discoveries are popping up in the fungi research kingdom.

B.C. scientist and UBC professor Shannon Berch has been leading a project that looks closely at what types of fungi grow on the roots of Garry oak trees. Metchosin mycologist Andy MacKinnon, who has been helping with the study, shared that samples from the roots of Garry oaks have revealed some species which don’t match any other in published literature.

“A number of the species Shannon, and another researcher Tom Witte, have found and analyzed at UVic and UBC didn’t match anything that’s been published yet, which really suggests they are looking at some species that would be new to science,” said MacKinnon.

When sampling the root tips, researchers have been looking at mycelium, a lively network of interconnected cells that grows along roots and through soil, feeding on decomposing organisms. It is not possible to identify a mushroom species by just looking at the mycelium. So, Berch entered the DNA from the mycelium into an international database, which can compare what she has found with other species that have already been identified.

“Some didn’t match any of the DNA sequences of other species, but were close enough to some published sequences, that Shannon could be reasonably certain that they were in the genus ‘Helvella’,” said MacKinnon. “So we think it’s a new species of Helvella.”

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The next step is to return to the Garry oaks in the spring and fall, look for the fruiting bodies, and then test the DNA of those mushrooms.

“If they match the fungus that is growing on the roots, then there is your species,” said MacKinnon.

MacKinnon, who is also a Metchosin councillor, holds a master’s degree in mycology and researches the curious lives of mushrooms through various projects. One of his focuses is with the Metchosin Biodiversity Project, a group that aims to increase understanding of Metchosin’s species and ecosystems.

The organization holds annual “mycoblitz” events, which include the community in collecting and identifying mushrooms in Metchosin.

Mackinnon has also co-authored six books on Western plants of North America, and is coming out with a new Royal B.C. Museum handbook on mushrooms. The book, which is written by MacKinnon and Kim Luther, is expected to hit the shelves by late summer.

“It will be the first book on mushrooms of B.C. in about five decades, so we are very jazzed,” said MacKinnon.

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READ ALSO: Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod


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