By Brendan O'Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - U.S. inventor George Washington Carver, known for his creativity with the peanut, has excited modern scientists with an unexpected find: century-old specimens of fungus.
University of Wisconsin officials said on Friday they discovered about 30 samples of the renowned African American inventor's fungus over the last month in old wooden cabinets in a hallway. They were cataloging 120,000 samples of microfungi in the university's herbarium in Madison, said Mary Ann Feist, the collection's curator.
Carver, who died in 1943, collected microfungi and sent samples to the University of Wisconsin and other institutions such as Field Museum in Chicago and the University of Illinois, Feist said.
Researchers believe Carver was interested in the effects of microfungi on crops and sent the samples to the institution because of its excellent reputation.
"It's important because it brings attention back to him and the research he did," she said of the discovery. "We were surprised and happy to find it."
Born into slavery in Missouri during the U.S. Civil War, Carver eventually established a reputation as a brilliant botanist.
He became known for his groundbreaking research for developing new uses for such crops as peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and pecans that helped make farming in the south more affordable. He also developed more than 100 products made from peanuts and other products, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline and nitroglycerin.
Feist said she expects more Carver samples will be uncovered as researchers continue cataloging and preserving the herbarium's collection of microfungi, the nation’s second-largest.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Editing by Ben Klayman)