An estimated 1.5 million species of fungi could greatly benefit medicine, industry and pollution control, according to the British Mycological Society, which held its centenary symposium at Sheffield University last week.
Tony Lyon, of Sheffield's department of animal and plant sciences, said the untapped potential was only now recognised and much work remained to be done. It is thought that only about 5 per cent of fungal species are known.
The study of fungi, though still in its infancy, has come a long way since botanists first went out in to the woods and hedgerows of Victorian Britain to document the multicoloured profusion of mushrooms and toadstools growing there.
The British Isles is one of the most intensely studied regions while the tropics may still contain many surprises. Advances in genetic engineering mean a range of fungal products are in reach.