A grant has been awarded to the West Virginia University Research Corporation under the direction of Dr. Joseph B. Morton for the maintenance and support of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi collection. These fungi are of immense ecological importance, living in association with the roots of approximately 80% of all vascular plant species. The symbiotic relationship benefits the plant by enhancing nutrient and water uptake by the roots, as well as stabilizing soils and affecting composition, productivity, and longevity of plant communities. The culture collection at West Virginia University is unique as a resource for identification and research on arbuscular mycorrhizae. The collection contains over 1,200 strains representing nearly half of the known species worldwide. Several hundred cultures are provided annually to researchers who study various aspects of physiology, ecology, and systematics of the fungi. The fungi only grow in association with plant roots, and this grant will fund the development of improved pot culture methods. The funding will also provide improvements in the online database by allowing users to search the database for information. Collaborations will be established with other laboratories to develop better methods of using DNA sequence data to identify strains and species. Assays will be developed to screen for the tolerance of strains to various ecological factors. The website for the collection contains a wealth of information on structure, operations, and policies of the collection; fungal systematics; culture methods, sources of supplies, and a searchable database of collection resources. Strains and collection resources are widely used by scientists and educators. Visitors to the collection learn how to incorporate a mycorrhizal component in their research, and workshops are held to facilitate these activities.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are ubiquitous soil-borne organisms that form obligate symbiotic associations with over 80% of all terrestrial plant species. The fungi are members of a unique lineage that constitutes the phylum Glomeromycota, having coevolved with plants for longer than 400 million years. The INternational Culture Collection of (Vesicular) Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (INVAM) at West Virginia University is one of four culture collections of AMF. These collections provide stocks that few labs can cultivate because the fungi must be grown on living plants for at least 3-4 months. INVAM is the largest, with four times the number of species and 28 times the number of strains of other collections, 99% of which are unique to the collection. INVAM currently contains 1112 accessioned strains of 112 species from 49 countries on all continents except Antarctica. This taxonomic diversity represents 47% of known species. An average of 327 stocks have been released to 38-54 users annually over the past seven years. A large proportion of stocks have been maintained for 15-28 years, with less the 8% of total registered accessions lost through culture failure. In addition to providing taxonomic diversity, the collection has increased its holdings of fungal strains to provide a valuable resource for studying genetic variation within and among asexually-reproducing populations. Users of the collection are broad in scope and include faculty and students from high schools through graduate programs at universities, researchers, and industry clients. Almost 20% of users are from private institutions or industry. An average of 37% of requests come from outside the U.S. Stocks include high-value germplasm, such as a strain used for a genome project and strains known to be highly effective as mycorrhizal symbionts. In addition to the core mission to preserve accessions and make available living cultures to the widest possible user community, INVAM communicates comprehensive information on collection protocols and policies, methodology, taxonomy, and an Oracle database for searching accessions or active/stored cultures by the public through its newly redesigned and updated website at http://invam.wvu.edu. INVAM is the largest provider of support data for identification of species from reference cultures (stocks or specimens linked to a library of voucher specimens). A project to generate high-resolution digital images documenting all characters of taxonomic importance, species diversity, and intraspecific variation is about 90% completed and much of this information will soon be available online and on DVD. A bar-coding project has amassed a library of 440 rRNA and 103 beta-tubulin gene sequences from reference strains to clarify or verify morphological separation of species. INVAM is involved in collaborations with faculty at other universities to use AMF stocks to understand biogeographic patterns and their cause(s), the reproductive biology and evolution of the fungi and their symbiosis, and the range of morphological and genetic variation within and between populations and between species. DNA sequencing effort will continue across the collection to better understand the range of genetic diversity amongst holdings. INVAM also collaborates extensively with industry to develop new methods for delivery of fungal materials, monitor quality, test effectiveness and longevity of products, and apply products to large-scale restoration and revegetation projects. Companies with whom INVAM provides services and collaboration include Becker Underwood, Horticultural Alliance and EcoMyc International. INVAM encourages exploration of science by high school students through contribution of stocks and supplies to science fair projects, organizing tours and giving demonstrations of the collection and how it functions, and providing advice to a wide range of queries via email. Undergraduate college students are mentored in short-term research projects and by working in the laboratory to gain hands-on experience. For seven years, INVAM has mentored 6-12 students each year designing, conducting and interpreting experiments in a "Total Science Experience" course. An average of 5-6 visitors each year come to receive taxonomic training, learn about culture protocols and/or process samples to identify species, with some staying from one to six months. Lectures and on-site demonstrations are combined to provide training each year for regional Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs. INVAM has been instrumental in helping entrepreneurs in the U.S., France, South Africa, and Mexico start and build new companies that either produce inoculants or provide services to growers.