Video: Students win plaudits from science world after solving poisonous mushroom mystery
- Credit: Submitted
A mysterious poisonous mushroom species, previously unknown in Norfolk, has been identified by two work experience students in a Norwich laboratory.
The achievement, made by the teenagers at the Year 10 Science Camp at the John Innes Centre at Colney, has been published in the scientific research journal Field Mycology.
The specimen was originally found growing in a domestic garden in Cley five years ago, but the couple who found it became unwell after mistaking it for a common field mushroom and eating it.
Their doctor advised them to contact expert mycologist Tony Leech in Holt, but despite microscopic analysis he was unable to match the mushroom to any poisonous fungus known to grow in Norfolk.
It spent five years in a store cupboard before Mr Leech was approached by research scientist Anne Edwards, who was looking for some samples to use with the Year 10 students.
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After a day of lab training, Phoebe Ellwood from Framingham Earl High School, near Poringland, and Sophie Royal from Derbyshire helped sequence the DNA of the sample and checked their results against an international genetic database, to find the species was agaricus bresadolanus – a variety common in continental Europe, but rare in the UK and never previously found in Norfolk.
Phoebe, 15, from Stoke Holy Cross, said: 'I never thought I would have my name published in a journal. You don't expect things like that to happen to someone of my age. You think it's only something that the high-up scientists achieve.
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'I'm doing triple science at school and I really want to have a career in science and research. Just going there (to the John Innes Centre) and seeing the skills the scientists use on a day-to-day basis was really inspiring.'
Dr Edwards said: 'It is most unusual for schoolchildren to contribute to a publication in a scientific journal such as this. It is a tremendous achievement and is indicative of how rewarding work experience in the labs at the John Innes Centre can be.'
It remains unclear how the continental mushroom agaricus bresadolanus came to be growing in the north Norfolk garden. The species has never before been found growing in Norfolk, although it is very occasionally found in the midlands or south east England.
Tiny fungal spores can be easily transported by people and vehicles, offering one potential route from the continent. Alternatively, several species have been known to spread in the woodchips used in gardening, earning the nickname 'woodchip aliens'.
The introduction of new species to the UK means even knowledgeable 'fungal foragers' may be unable to adequately identify mushrooms, as only genetic analysis may be able to distinguish edible varieties from their poisonous counterparts.
Applications for the 2015 Science Camp at the John Innes Centre are now open. Information can be found at www.jic.ac.uk/year10.