Although significant progress has been made in our understanding of fungal diversity, identification based on phenotype can be difficult, even for trained experts. Fungi typically have a cryptic nature and can have a similar appearance to distantly related species. Moreover, the appearance of industrially processed mushrooms complicates species identification, as they are often sold sliced and dried. Here we present a small-scale citizen science project, wherein the participants generated and analyzed DNA sequences from fruiting bodies of dried and fresh fungi that were sold for commercial use in New York City supermarkets. We report positive outcomes and the limitations of a youth citizen scientist, aiming to identify dried mushrooms, using established DNA barcoding protocols and exclusively open-access data analysis tools for species identification. Our results indicate that the single-locus nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) DNA barcoding approach allowed for identification of only a subset of all of the samples at the species level, although the generated high-quality DNA barcodes were submitted to three different databases. Our results highlight the need for a curated, centralized, and open access ITS reference database that allows rapid third-party annotations for the benefit of both traditional research as well as the emerging citizen science community.
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