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Exploring underutilised plants and fungi from Colombia to boost its bioeconomy

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Colombia is the world’s second most biodiverse country. Hosting ~30,000 plant species (25% endemic; >1,000 threatened), and more than 3,500 useful plants, it is centre of origin of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, chilies and many other crops and their wild relatives. The fungal diversity can be equally high, but still undiscovered. Despite its unique biological richness, vast social inequality with marked poverty in the rural areas has triggered more than six decades of internal conflict. In recent years Colombia has established policies promoting sustainable use of biodiversity to develop its bioeconomy, to reduce this social gap and consolidate peace whilst following a green growth. In 2017, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew launched the “Kew-Colombia Bio Programme”, to support this country’s transformation based on the sustainable use of its plant and fungal diversity. The programme has successfully established ten research projects, covering topics in systematics, conservation, plant uses and biodiversity informatics. With funding from the Newton-Caldas Fund, Kew delivered “ColPlantA: Colombian resources for Plants made Accessible” (, an authoritative, expert-driven, open access, online portal for botanical information on Colombian plants, officially launched in August 2019. ColPlantA aims to hold an online species profile for each of the plant species known from Colombia, aggregating information from other databases and portals, and displaying previously inaccessible information. Currently ColPlantA holds more than 22,200 species profiles with more than 12,000 images. As a continuation of ColPlantA, this month Kew started its newest project in Colombia, called “Underutilised Plants and Fungi of Colombia” (UPFC). The overarching aim of this project is to document and broadly disseminate knowledge on the useful plants and fungi of Colombia with the ultimate goal of developing pathways to enhance nature’s contribution to people in this country. This project will promote the sustainable use of biodiversity whilst protecting the surrounding natural resources. Representing 10% of global biodiversity, Colombia’s useful plants and fungi can provide critical science-based solutions not just for its national problems, but also for global challenges.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society series.

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