Fungal Identification Using Molecular Tools: A Primer for the Natural Products Research Community

Huzefa A. Raja, Andrew N. Miller, Cedric J. Pearce, Nicholas H. Oberlies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Fungi are morphologically, ecologically, metabolically, and phylogenetically diverse. They are known to produce numerous bioactive molecules, which makes them very useful for natural products researchers in their pursuit of discovering new chemical diversity with agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical applications. Despite their importance in natural products chemistry, identification of fungi remains a daunting task for chemists, especially those who do not work with a trained mycologist. The purpose of this review is to update natural products researchers about the tools available for molecular identification of fungi. In particular, we discuss (1) problems of using morphology alone in the identification of fungi to the species level; (2) the three nuclear ribosomal genes most commonly used in fungal identification and the potential advantages and limitations of the ITS region, which is the official DNA barcoding marker for species-level identification of fungi; (3) how to use NCBI-BLAST search for DNA barcoding, with a cautionary note regarding its limitations; (4) the numerous curated molecular databases containing fungal sequences; (5) the various protein-coding genes used to augment or supplant ITS in species-level identification of certain fungal groups; and (6) methods used in the construction of phylogenetic trees from DNA sequences to facilitate fungal species identification. We recommend that, whenever possible, both morphology and molecular data be used for fungal identification. Our goal is that this review will provide a set of standardized procedures for the molecular identification of fungi that can be utilized by the natural products research community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)756-770
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Natural Products
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 24 2017


  • INHS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Organic Chemistry

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