The genus Fusarium contains numerous species of economic importance due to their ability to cause disease in plants and humans and to produce mycotoxins. In the past 100 years the number of species recognised in Fusarium has ranged from nine to over 1000, with the number of recognised species now again over 100. The economic importance of these fungi, their distribution from subantarctic and arctic regions to the tropics, and the ability of some member of the genus to colonise virtually any green plant means that most plant pathologists and mycologists at some time must grapple with the problem of correctly identifying a strain of Fusarium.
In 2000, the tradition of holding laboratory workshops to teach identification techniques was revived at Kansas State University and co-convened by Professor John Leslie KSU and Brett Summerell from the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust.
These workshops differed from those held in the 1980s and 1990s in that participants work with cultures from at least 40 different species during the week and extract and sequence DNA and use that data for strain identification purposes. This broad base provides an entrée to all of the areas of active research with Fusarium.
Instruction at the workshops is by a team of instructors rather than a single person, reflecting the diversity of approaches and philosophies found in current research studies (see Summerell et al., 2003). Additional instructors have included researchers from the US, Canada, Italy, Norway, Australia, Malaysia and South Korea.
There are three texts available to support the instructional effort:
- an edited text that summarises the status of the field Fusarium: Paul E. Nelson Memorial Symposium (Summerell et al., 2001)
- a text summarising the work the last 20 years of research in mycotoxicology, Fusarium Mycotoxins: Chemistry Genetics and Biology (Desjardins, 2006)
- an identification manual, The Fusarium Laboratory Manual (Leslie and Summerell, 2006).
Workshop participants are diverse in terms of their interests - plant pathology, medical mycology, air quality, plant breeding and mycotoxicology, amongst others. They also are diverse geographically coming from all continents and representing countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Egypt, Ghana, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia in addition to the United States. The workshops currently are based in Kansas and are held at Kansas State University in odd years (most recently in 2015). In even years the location rotates to enable more international participation and have included Sydney (2002), South Africa (2004), Italy (2006 and 2012), Penang Malaysia (2008) Argentina (2010) and South Korea (2014). Future locations include South Africa (2016) and Kansas (2017).