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Standing up for fungi

10 July 2009

Martha in her mushroom costume

A University researcher is set to take part in an innovative living monument.

Martha Crockatt, a research associate in the School of Biosciences, is lining up to take her turn on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of sculptor Antony Gormley’s latest art project.

The One and Other project will see a different person standing on the plinth every hour for 24 hours a day over 100 days. Participants can choose how they want to spend their time on the plinth.

For her allocated slot, between 3 and 4am on Sunday 12 July, Martha plans to wear a mushroom costume to raise awareness of the importance of fungi.

Martha said: "My time on the plinth will be a celebration of an often overlooked section of life which is of vital importance to our planet. Many people think of fungi in a negative light but, in fact, human beings could not survive without them. For example, over 85% of plants obtain their nutrients and water from soil through fungi."

"Fungi are the main garbage disposal agents and nutrient recyclers of the natural world and are important in producing human food. Perhaps, most surprisingly, fungi are even essential for chocolate production as they actually produce its characteristic flavour."

"Penicillin is also produced by a fungus, as are many of the ‘wonder drugs’ of the twenty-first century, including medicines for controlling cholesterol and preventing transplant tissue rejection. Clearly this vast kingdom, though often hidden from sight and unappreciated, is crucial to our very existence."

More than 14,000 people from across Britain have so far applied to take part in the One and Other project which will see 2,400 people taking turns on the plinth up to 14 October 2009.

During her time slot, Martha will be supported by fellow scientists who will be holding a fungus fancy dress party at ground level. Attending the party will be Professor Lynne Boddy, School of Biosciences and President of the British Mycological Society.

Professor Boddy recently had reason to celebrate as the Society’s exhibit in the continuous learning section of the Royal Horticultural Chelsea show was awarded a coveted gold medal. As well as being a hit with the judges, the display was viewed by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, and also featured on a television slot with Alan Titchmarsh.

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