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TASMANIA's native forests could be a goldmine for new human medicines, says a leading mushroom expert.
They may even hold the key to a breakthrough cancer treatment.
University of Tasmania fungi researcher Sapphire McMullan-Fisher said the island's native forests were an untapped resource for new drugs.
She said Tassie's forests were full of fungi and mosses with active ingredients which could be useful to medicine.
"But we know practically nothing about these possibilities, so little research is being done," said Ms McMullan-Fisher, who estimates only 40 per cent of Tasmania's native mushrooms have been scientifically named. The other 60 per cent remained a mystery to science.
After 10 years of specialised research into fungi, she said she still often found fungi in Tasmanian forests which she had never seen before.
Ms McMullan-Fisher's PhD supervisor, Dr Tom May from the Melbourne Herbarium, was also regularly surprised with new previously unknown varieties.
"He has 30 years' experience in this field and he still gets surprised," Ms McMullan-Fisher said, adding there was a major lack of research into Tasmania's native fungi and in Australian fungi as a whole.
"There are about 10 to 15 people Australia-wide studying fungi but there's 2000 Australian scientists investigating plants," she said.
The lack of information about the native fungi had seen bio-prospectors all but ignore them.
In the mid-1990s there was an explosion of research worldwide into potential new drug treatments. Global drug companies ploughed billions into scouring the world's rainforests for potential new drugs.
"The bio-prospectors avoided looking into Tasmania's fungus because there was so little known and there was no guarantee they would even know what they were looking at," she said.
Ms McMullan-Fisher said interest in fungi and mosses had particularly waned in the past 30 years.
The lack of understanding had serious consequences.
She said most forest reserves in Tasmania were based on large plant types and did not take into account fungi and mosses.
"These things may be going extinct and we don't even know it," she said.
The level of understanding of native fungi and mosses in Tasmania was 200 years behind the study of larger plants in the state.
"Tasmania, as part of the Gondwanaland relic, could be expected to be a hotspot for fungal diversity. There's a lot of work to be done."
Ms McMullan-Fisher said Tasmanian Aborigines probably had a far more in-depth understanding of the island's fungi and which varieties were edible, poisonous or beneficial in medical treatments.
"Unfortunately not much remains of what the Tasmanian Aborigines knew because we came in and didn't bother to learn."
Ms McMullan-Fisher has recently moved to Queensland where she is finishing writing up her thesis on fungi and moss communities in the alpine, wet forest, coastal heath and grassy woodland around Hobart.
She spent years studying mosses and fungi near Hobart including on Mt Wellington where she said there were up to 500 different species.