Sunday mushroom-picking picnics in the forests of the Ukraine have been a tradition for generations,” he says. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve known which mushrooms are good to eat, which are not, and which are poisonous and should be avoided. It’s something that everybody knows. Whoever heard of supermarket-purchased mushrooms!”
Stretched by his curiosity to understand more than just the edible applications of mushrooms, Wasser earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Systematics and Geography of Plants at Uzhgorod State University in 1969. From there he went on to earn his Ph.D. and D.Sc. from the Ukraine’s Institute of Botany at the National Academy of Science.
Through my studies I was able research different types of mushrooms—their importance to humans, their ecology, their applications, their geography and distribution, he says. Wasser’s fieldwork research has led him on mushroom discovery missions around the world—Vietnam, the United States, Germany, Austria, Hungary, various parts of his homeland, and, just a year and a half ago, Israel. The countless test tubes, petri dishes, and sealed plastic bags lining the shelves and counter space of Wasser’s laboratory display his souvenirs from these trips. Day in and day out, he examines his herbarium (containing over one thousand species of mushroom, fungi, lichens, and mosses) in an effort to determine their applications. He explains that the applications are immense – ranging from use in the production of antibiotics (i.e., penicillin) to industrial chemicals, foodstuffs, energy, and agriculture. In the future, Wasser hopes his research will introduce five or six new strains of edible mushrooms for commercial cultivation within Israel. (Currently there are only two species of mushrooms on the Israeli market.) He would also like to research aquatic fungi in an effort to determine which species are beneficial to water and the living organisms it contains. Because the Kinneret is Israel’s only source for drinking water, the results of this study will be of great significance.
Wasser, the 49-year-old father of two, is also a lecturer in the University’s Department of Biology. He is an expert in botany-mycology (fungi), a specialist in the fields of floristics, systematics, geography, evolution, protection of cryptogamic plants and fungi, and commercial cultivation of mushrooms, and the author of over 300 scientific publications and twenty books. In addition to his post at the University, he is the Head of the Dept. of Cryptogamic Plants and Fungi at N.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany, National Academy of Science, in the Ukraine and Chief of the National Herbarium of the Ukraine.
In 1995, he wrote Handbook of Mushrooms in Israel, the first book in Russian on edible and poisonous mushrooms in Israel. Recently he co-authored The First Checklist of Lichen-Forming and Lichenicolous Fungi of Israel.