What’s The Best Place To Discover A New Species Of Mushroom? How About A Grocery Store?

Alap Naik Desai - Author

Sep. 24 2014, Updated 12:29 p.m. ET

When a scientist or a biologist claims to have discovered an exceedingly rare or presumably extinct species, you assume it might be in the heart of a jungle or in the murky depths of the ocean. But you would never think for once that any discovery could be made in the local grocery store. But that just happened.

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Bryn Dentinger and Laura Martinez-Suz, mycologists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, recently discovered three new kinds of mushroom at their local grocery store. The new species of mushrooms were discovered in a packet full of other, edible type of mushrooms. The scientist duo made the astounding discovery in a package of dried porcini mushrooms from a grocery store in “southwest greater London”. Skeptical as always, they tested the new species using a technique called DNA barcoding. The same technique was previously used by the same scientist while researching mushrooms at the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto. The findings have been published in PeerJ.

Are the scientists sure they have discovered a new species? DNA barcoding is rather simple technique which compares the newly discovered species DNA with the ones already in the database. Essentially, the technique involves matching the DNA profile of a sample to a database of known species in order to identify the sample.

When the scientists performed the sampling on the bag of mushrooms, not one but three DNA strands were found to be completely new, indicating that they had stumbled upon a hereto un-sampled and unregistered type of mushroom, reportedThe Week. Speaking about the discovery, Dentinger said,

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“None of them had scientific names, so these were essentially new species to science. And we found three different species in the 15 pieces that we sampled from.”

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Now that an unknown mushroom has been found within the bag, are they safe to consume? As it turns out, “porcini” is “a gastronomical label more than it is scientific, clarified Kachur, “What the Italians originally called porcinis were this unique flavor of nutty type of mushroom.”

On the other hand, porcini mushrooms do tend to belong to a family of mushrooms known by scientists as boletus, which have tubes on their undersides instead of gills. Though these types of mushrooms have yet to be identified, they are safe for human consumption, said Kachur.

This finding clearly suggests that mushrooms are more diverse than scientists previously thought. However, it further complicates the theory of mushroom evolution, lamented Kachur,

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“What is the evolutionary history that means they look the same and yet they are very genetically different? We don’t have the answer for that.”

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[Image Credit | Bryn Dentinger/Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew]


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