Mary Berbee

Wall Associate




Department of Botany





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Mary Berbee

Research in the Berbee laboratory focuses on the diversity and molecular phylogenetics of fungi. Fungi and animals shared a common ancestor over a billion years ago. Since that time, animals evolved into herbivores and predators while fungi became specialized as decay agents and recyclers in the environment; as plant and animal pathogens; and as symbionts contributing as mycorrhizal partners to plant growth. Through a combination of field and laboratory work, students and postdoctoral researchers are finding and culturing fungi and fungus-like organisms, many of them new to science, and then applying microscopic and molecular phylogenetic techniques to place the origin and diversification of the fungi in a phylogenetic context.

Primary Recipient Awards

Mary Berbee – Wall Solutions – 2015

Edible, poisonous or ecologically vital-DNA sequence database to characterize BC fungi important for human and environmental health
Partner: Dr. Thomas Kosatsky, BC Centre for Disease Control
Partner Organization(s): BC Centre for Disease Control Environmental Health Services; Vancouver Mycological Society; North America Mycological Association; South Vancouver Island Mycological Society; Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center; Department of Botany, UBC; BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre
Mushrooms in BC have been responsible for 96 cases of symptomatic poisoning over the last two years. Even more common have been hospital visits after someone, often a young child, accidentally ate a mushroom. Meanwhile, edibles such as pine mushrooms are valuable BC non-timber forest products. Foraging for wild foods including mushrooms is increasingly popular. In spite of their importance, at least half of the species of BC mushrooms are still unknown to science, or are so poorly characterized that reliable identification is impossible. In this project, we will develop a barcode DNA sequence identification database, to systematically ‘tag’ mushroom specimens, prioritizing toxic or edible species. The proposed database of mushrooms will help food protection programs in creating guidelines for edible wild mushroom harvest and sales, while improving the accuracy of identifications and efficacy of treatment when toxic mushrooms are involved in poisoning.