As we move to more relaxed lockdown regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools, businesses and offices are starting to re-open. Likewise, FABI is enthusiastically preparing to welcome back most of its postgraduate students, postdocs and staff. In doing so, there will be some interesting surprises as we open up offices for the first time in more than two months. Indoor fungi usually occupy these spaces with us. For the most part, we are not aware of the fact that we inhale their spores with every breath. It is only once we provide them with carbon sources for an extended time that they become more obvious and visible as a fungal colony. Think about a coffee cup not cleaned well, some paper that became moist inside a box or perhaps some fruit or snacks that were forgotten as we all headed for lockdown. These substrates all provide food for fungi. 

Recently, a leatherwear and accessory store in Malaysia reopened their doors after two months of lockdown, only to find fungi growing on all their products. This is an extreme case, but if we look carefully in our own offices, we might find fungi in the most unexpected places. In these unusual and often harsh environments, the most likely fungi to be discovered are those that are xerophilic or osmotolerant such as species of AspergillusCladosporium or Penicillium. These xerophiles are very common but are rarely isolated during surveys not specifically targeting them. This is because they require specialized isolation media having a low water activity (often this is controlled by adding high amounts of sugar or salt to media). As a result, they are grossly understudied in South Africa. Current projects characterizing fungal diversity associated with South African grain crops are leading to the discovery of many xerophilic fungi. What is emerging is that these fungi need to be much better catalogued than they have been in the past. Contributing to this effort, Prof. Cobus Visagie and Dr Neriman Yilmaz, two of FABI’s passionate mycologists have launched a FABI “fun” project to consider the fungal diversity found in and around the Institute, as we begin to return to our laboratories and offices. Please contact Cobus Visagie or Neriman Yilmaz if you find fungi in strange places and want to contribute to this initiative. And here we also invite friends from other parts of the world to join us if they wish to do so.