Marina De León

Marina De León is from the East Coast and is currently a PhD student at UC Davis working with Dr. Jonathan Eisen.

Tell us about your project!

The invasive, pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is destroying amphibian populations across the world. Understanding Bd epidemiology and treatment options is imperative to saving many species from extinction. My research incorporates field, lab, and bioinformatics techniques to study how Bd is spreading and how the fungal infection can be treated. I test amphibian skin-associated bacteria for possible anti-fungal effects by observing whether the bacteria can inhibit the growth of Bd, and also use genomic techniques to analyze Bd dissemination over large spatial scales.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

Bd is my favorite fungus because although it is causing amphibian populations to decline rapidly, it really is a fascinating organism. It is a unique, semi-aqatic, parasitic chytrid that we learn more about every day. We don’t even know how it reproduces sexually yet! To science and research it’s “the gift that keeps on giving”.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

The NSF-GRFP (2017), Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute short term fellowship (STRI-STF) (2019), UC Davis Center for Population Biology graduate research award (2020 and 2021).

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done with your current position?

I would like to work in wildlife and environmental conservation in whatever manner I can!

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

Many types of fungus, including chytrids produce zoospores, meaning their spores have flagella making the spores motile, and they actually use chemotaxis to move to toward a nutrient source. This is an incredible and unique function!

Who is your mycology role model?

Dr. Cassandra Ettinger

Any great stories from field work?

I was hiking through a jungle in Costa Rica in the middle of the night looking for a rare population of nocturnal frogs to collect skin swabs in order to test them for Bd infections. I hadn’t heard any sounds for hours, other than crickets, until I heard the most eerie sound on Earth – the hauntingly beautiful song of a lesser potoo bird. At the time I didn’t know it was a bird, and the posibility crossed my mind that I had actually died. That’s it. That’s the story, and I hope you look up this bird’s call.

(Editor’s note: Here it is…)

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I enjoy using the SEEK app to take pictures of fungi and identify them. I then like to upload the photos and IDs to iNaturalist to see which mycologists get into arguments over the identification suggestions.

Autumn Anglin

Autumn Anglin is from Colorado and Florida but currently lives in Oregon and is active with the Willamette Valley Mushroom Society (WVMS) as a member of the WVMS funga citizen science study group. Autumn is a ceramicist as well as a graphic designer, book illustrator, photographer, and web designer.

Tell us about your project!

We are vouchering specimens of fungi and having then sequenced to show the biodiversity of fungi in our area.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

My favorite fungi are the little black cup ascomycetes. I always find them when I am out and have discovered a new species! Some of my favorites are the Donidina nigrella, Urnula padeniana, and Pseudoplectania vogesiaca.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

I was recently acknowledged in my first scientific publication for the work I am doing with the University of Florida’s Pezizales study! Read about it here.

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done with your current position?

Right now I am the Vice President of the Willamette Valley Mushroom Society and mentor in the study group. I would like to take my career further and find a place that will teach me how to do experiments with fungi and be part of more research projects.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

I love the connections fungi bring to everything. I have been studying the ectomycorrhizal fungi since I read Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree. Looking at the forest as a whole organism is my new favorite thing.

Who is your mycology role model?

Candy Raper since I am on the same life path. I have to raise my kids before starting a career and just like her, I will be so excited to work with and discover new things about fungi.

Any great stories from field work?

I was giving a class to a bunch of middle schoolers in January. I was talking about chemical reactions and fungi and told them about the Tapinella atrotomentosa fungi and how it reacts with ammonia and stains purple. One of the kids asked me if I had ever peed on a mushroom to see if it turned purple. I thought that was hilarious and may have to try it.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I would love to connect with people who are doing fungi research and even get a job or further my career in Fungi. I am creating a DNA sequencing lab in my studio and would love to connect with people to help build the foundation in kingdom fungi.

Abbey Neat

Abbey Neat is from Pasadena, California and is currently conducting research at Oregon State University with Dr. Posy Busby!

Tell us about your project!

I am studying fungal endophytes found in conifer leaf litter. When a tree drops its leaves, its fungal microbiome travels with the leaves as they fall to the ground and will inoculate the next generation of emerging seedlings. I am interested in the fitness benefits (or consequences) of a seedling growing near a same-species adult tree, and the degree to which these benefits (or consequences) can be explained by the leaf-litter microbiota.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

I am a fan of any fungus that tastes good! I think Hericium is the most fun to forage because fruiting bodies are often up on snags or tree trunks rather than down on the forest floor.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

I really appreciate the various examples of convergent evolution in the fungal kingdom. The fact that fungi forming ectomycorrhizal partnerships can be found in different phyla still blows my mind!

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I host pub trivia! I used to do so in person before the pandemic, but I’ve transitioned to Zoom format for now. I hosted a ‘mycology’ themed trivia for MSA SPS this past November… stay tuned for more! I also like to bike. I biked across the state of Oregon before starting my PhD at Oregon State.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I worked as an instructor and coordinator of an environmental education program for two years before I started my PhD. It was fun and informative to interact with forests through the lens of an educator. It also showed me how important (and challenging) it is to be able to translate my research to diverse audiences.

Kate Hickman

Kate Hickman grew up in Sedalia, Missouri and Provo, Utah and is currently working at Utah Valley University with Dr. Geoffrey Zahn!

Tell us about your project!

We’re analyzing samples taken from mangroves to assess potential interactions between fungi and bacteria. Our aim is to provide information that leads to more effective nursery practices with mangrove sapling inoculation so that reforesting strategies are more successful.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

Student of the Year – UVU College of Humanities and Social Science
NSF Research Assistant

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done with your current position?

I plan to be a marine mycologist, studying fungal communities in coastal ecosystems, from mangroves to seagrass to corals. I am also very interested in tropical rain forest ecosystems. I’m also very interested in science communication for advocacy groups and politics. I hope to help reduce the gap between scientific knowledge and community initiatives or political movements.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

I love lichens (in general), although I am probably most familiar with Xanthoria parietina. Lichens are amazing because they embody many of the complicated and incredible aspects of ecology, all within a few centimeters. Their ability to form multiple symbioses is particularly inspirational, and exemplifies a lesson that everyone would benefit to learn from.

Xanthoria parietina by Norbert Nagel

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

I am absolutely enthralled with mycelia. The fact that most of the fungus is invisible to humans, in tandem with the integral role that these structures play, makes fungi seem even more fantastic. So much mysticism surrounds this kingdom, and I feel very excited to be entering this field as a professional.

Who is your mycology role model?

Bitty Roy, University of Oregon and Geoffrey Zahn, Utah Valley University

Any great stories from field work (funny/interesting/something that stuck out to you)?

This story is a little less field work and little more mushroom hunting: A few comrades (non-mycologists) and I were out on a casual hike after a good rain and happened upon a few Amanita mushrooms. We got really excited and took several photos then went on to finish our hike. As we continued up the mountain, we saw more and more Amanitas until we stumbled upon an absolute grove of them (I believe they were either Amanita flavoconia or A. muscaria)! I even found one with a cap that exceeded a foot in diameter, which is relatively uncommon in Utah. Once we had our fill of photos and excitement, I told my comrades there was a high probability that these mushrooms were fatal when ingested and one of them almost fainted!

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I love most hobbies that get me outside, from winter sports to rock climbing and everything in between! I also enjoy needle art, foraging (urban and feral), performing arts, writing, reading, journalism, public speaking, baking, biking, and homework.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

I think advocacy, empathy, and being well-informed are crucial to being a good human and a great scientist. I am very interested in helping others to understand the natural world; moreover, to care about and for it. I try to enrich the lives of everyone I come into contact with, and continue to do my best to leave the natural world an ever-better place.

Jacob Steenwyk

Jacob Steenwyk grew up Pasadena, California, and is currently a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, working with Dr. Antonis Roka!

Tell us about your project!

My research focuses on the extensive loss of cell-cycle and DNA repair genes in an ancient lineage of bipolar budding yeasts.

Which awards do you like to brag about?

My most recent awards include an Honorable mention in the Next Generation Faculty Symposium at Stanford.Berkeley.UCSF, a presentation award in the Canadian Fungal Research Network and Great Lakes Mycology Conference, a Graduate Research Excellence Award in Biological Sciences, and a Smriti Bardhan Scholarship from Vanderbilt University.

What are your career goals/plans for after your current position?

I would like to be a professor at a research institution.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

The yeast genus Hanseniaspora because they can be used to diversify wine-flavors profiles but, more importantly, may be a treasure trove of novel biology of fundamental biological processes due to the massive loss of cell-cycle and DNA repair genes.

Hanseniaspora uvarumVanderbilt University

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

My favorite thing about fungi is that they are amazingly diverse genomically, ecologically, and economically. Additionally, they seem to have superpowers ranging from being the largest organism on earth, their amazing bioluminescent glow, and much much more!

Who is your mycology role model?

Cletus Kurtzman

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I love making graphic art, play the guitar, and produce music. Additionally, I love to rock climb with my friends and go running.

Anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I am heavily involved in service within and beyond the Vanderbilt community. Here are some of the things I’m currently involved in:
2020-Pres. Founder and Chief Officer, SciArt with Purpose
2019-Pres. Co-chair, Communication and Outreach Subcommittee, Genetics Society of America
2019-Pres. Inclusion Coordinator, The Evolutionary Studies Initiative at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2019-Pres. Graphic Illustrator, The Evolutionary Studies Initiative at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2017-Pres. Educational outreach booth design and execution, MEGAMicrobe, Nashville, TN

Madeline Lueck

If you are interested in being featured in a future MSA student and postdoc spotlight, please fill out this form with your information!

Madeline Lueck is our student spotlight for the month of November! Madeline grew up in East Bay Area, California, and is currently a graduate student at Washington State University, Tri-Cities, working with Dr. Tanya Cheeke.

Tell us about your project!

Have you ever walked into a garden shop and seen those bags of mycorrhizae on the shelf? Well, I am currently researching how those commercial mycorrhizal products and locally adapted AMF influence plant growth in a perennial crop.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

I graduated with honors from Humboldt State University (BS in Botany)

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done with your current position?

I have always wanted to work for a university extension or a state or federal agency in research related to agriculture or forestry, with an emphasis on mycoremediation and mycorestoration as we face shifts in our global climate. My current position as a MSc student has introduced me to the world of teaching and I find that to be incredibly fulfilling, so that may become a path I choose to pursue down the line.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

One of my favorite fungi is Fistulina hepatica aka beefsteak fungus. Not only does its bright red color add ornamentation to the stumps it grows on, but it also makes a wonderful jerky to enjoy during the Fall.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

I am amazed by the diverse world of fungi and the multitude of ecological niches they fill, such as serving as decomposers or mutualists. I am also intrigued by the prevalence of mycophobia in our society – it is my hope that by shedding light the ecological roles of fungi and their important uses to humans, those fears can be turned into fascination.

Who is your mycology role model?

Not so much a single role model, but Bay Area Applied Mycology is a group that has worked to make simple tools used in mycology, such as cultivation techniques and access to labs, available to the public. I think their message and goal is awesome, and their presence in the community while l was living in California was a big influence for why I chose to pursue mycology.

Any great stories from field work (funny/interesting/something that stuck out to you)?

After I completed my BS, I worked as a field tech by performing Sudden Oak Death surveys in Northern California. The areas that we worked in were dense with Douglas fir and huckleberry – so dense, that we often had to crawl on our bellies under the huckleberry. While tedious and slow, this belly crawl tactic was the best way to come across those camouflaged Craterellus cornucopioides and C. tubaeformis. Definitely worth the scrapes and ticks!

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

In my free time, I love to explore natural areas through hiking and trail running. I also enjoy screen printing, making crafts, and gardening.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

I feel so thankful to be able to combine my passions for horticulture and mycology into my research, and I have been very lucky to have the support from some amazing mentors, family, and friends. One of my goals by pursuing biology is make it more accessible to the public through outreach, education, and collaboration. How can we share our knowledge in ways that promote education in mycology beyond the scientific community?

Gary Olds

Gary Olds is currently doing research at the Denver Botanical Gardens with Dr. Andrew Wilson.

Tell us about your project!

My project, “Applying a Modified Metabarcoding Approach for the Sequencing of Macrofungal Specimens,” explores laboratory techniques in taking the efficiency (time, labor, and cost) of environmental DNA sequencing and applying that to the historically slower and more costly methods of sequencing specimens in fungaria.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

Alexander H. and Helen V. Smith Research Award (2021)

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done with your current position?

I plan to go into biodiversity research and education. I plan to have a career in natural resource conservation and sustainability, especially in connecting communities to nature.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

The genus Claviceps, especially Claviceps purpurea (rye ergot fungus) is a type of fungus that is a disease on cereal grasses such as rye. This fungus is not only a disease of these plants but can cause ergotism in humans when consumed (these are commercial crop-type plants). There is a theory that this fungus, causing ergotism, is the cause of hysteria and hallucinations that resulted in witch trials.

Who is your mycology role model?

Vera Stucky Evenson

Any great stories from field work (funny/interesting/something that stuck out to you)?

My best foray was one at a mushroom fair in which I found my first ever (and pretty big) ruby porcinis (Boletus rubriceps), got to spend time with (and get my books signed by) my mycology role model (Vera Stucky Evenson), and met Dr. Andy Wilson, with whom I built a connection and eventually became his graduate student.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

My favorite activity is mountain biking. I enjoy biking through the city and solitude with reading, drawing, coloring, crafting, and creative projects.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

I am also a zookeeper! In addition to my passion for mushrooms and plants, I love animals and teaching people. I work with an animal ambassador program at an aquarium. This means I provide daily husbandry (care, feeding, training, check-ups) for education animals and also run public programs and behavior demonstrations with these animals. The collection I work with consists of 12 mammals, 6 birds, 9 reptiles, and 2 invertebrates.

Magnolia Morelli

Magnolia Morelli grew up in Salt Lake City, UT, and is currently doing research at Utah Valley University with Geoffrey Zahn.

Tell us about your project!

I am currently planning a research trip to Costa Rica to study mycophagy within primates. I will be collecting data at La Selva Biological station over the course of a month.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

I have received a National Science Foundation fellowship to attend Utah Valley University which includes full tuition and an annual stipend for travel and research funds.

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?

My current plan after graduation is to pursue a PhD program centered around mycology. This will set me up to be a professor at a University where I can work on other research projects.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

It is so difficult to pick just one! If I had to choose I’d say the Rhodotus palmatus. It reminds me of something fantastical. How fungi can be what we typically think of as “mushroom” but it can also be something magic.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

The first fact that got me interested in fungi is that they are more closely related to animals than plants. This blew my mind when I first found out. They are so much more complex than we have yet discovered.

Who is your mycology role model?

My grandpa Peter is my mycology role model. He was the first person to push my desire of adventure. I remember going out into the woods and searching for mushrooms on logs and in caves when I was just a kid.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

My free time is mostly consumed by studying for my future research. I love reading up on new studies that are happening throughout the world. If I am not reading I am traveling. I travel as much as I can. My ultimate goal is to visit every country in the world. I love discovering new things, places, and cultures.

Nicole Colón-Carrión

Nicole Colón-Carrión grew up in Puerto Rico and is currently doing research at the University of Arizona with Dr. Elizabeth Arnold.

Tell us about your project!

In my dissertation research I seek to understand how climate changes impact plant-fungal associations, with a focus on two main environments: wild tropical forests and agricultural systems. Specifically, my work focuses on (1) understanding how hurricane disturbances affect the diversity and composition of fungal symbionts associated with roots and leaves of tropical forest trees; (2) exploring how fungal symbionts can protect cultivated plants against disease under a rapidly warming climate; and (3) assessing the needs and knowledge of farmers in Puerto Rico regarding the control and management of pests and pathogens in the field in order to customize educational lesson plan that best fit their needs.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

I was awarded with the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP), the Dr. Leathers Graduate Student Scholarship from the Arizona Mushroom Society, and with the National Geographic Early Career Award were I received the title of National Geographic Explorer. Currently, I was awarded with the MSA Interchange Ambassador Award to support my two projects, “Micología en Ruedas” and “LatinX mycleium”.

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?

My career goal is to return to Puerto Rico as an extension specialist focused on the use development microbe-microbe interactomes into biocontrol strategies to reduce pathogenicity and the use of chemical agents in the landscape. I also aim to continue developing education programs and material that increase science exposure to underrepresented communities.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

If microscopic, Aspergillus niger. It was the first fungus I isolated from rice as an undergraduate researcher. If macroscopic, the basket stinkhorn (Clathrus ruber). I just love it s structure and bright color.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

The diversity of them and the significant roles they plan in ecosystem functioning. Also, I love their structures and colors.

Who is your mycology role model?

I am going to go with two Puerto Rican mycologist for this one. The first is Dr. Sharon Cantrell. Dr. Cantrell became the first Puerto Rican woman to be appointed as president of the Mycological Society of America and have done amazing work in elucidating the diversity of fungi within the tropical forest of Puerto Rico. The second is Dr. Chad Lozada. Dr. Lozada introduced me to the wonderful world of fungi as my research mentor at the University of Puerto Rico Cayey Campus. His passion and mentorship motivated me pursue a graduate degree in the field in order to later training the next generation of Puerto Rican mycologist.

Any great stories from field work?

Always wear bug spray if you are sampling in the tropics!

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I love to dance (salsa particularly), spent time in the beach, and read.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Along with my Ph.D., I am currently pursuing a certificate in College Teaching from the UA. This certificate provided me with a new appreciation for educational research. The knowledge obtained though this certificate and the eagerness to help underrepresented communities are the reasons I emerge myself in curriculum and educational program development. Something that I wish to continue as a Post-doctoral researcher. If you know of fellowships and grants that support this kind of work, send them my way (ncoloncarrion@email.arizona.edu). Also, for updates and cool pictures about “Micología en Ruedas” and “LatinX mycleium” stay tune to @ncoloncarrion (Twitter) and @thePuertoRicanmycologist (IG).

Terry Torres-Cruz

Terry J Torres Cruz grew up in Costa Rica. She is currently doing research at Penn State-State College with Dr. David Geiser. 

Tell us about your project! 

My thesis project aims to describe a potential new plant-fungal mimicry system and the potential involvement of insects in this interaction.

What awards would you like to brag about?

During my time at Penn State, I have been recognized for my leadership work inside the institution with the “2021 Student Leader Scholarship” and for my efforts to promote intercultural understanding on campus and beyond with the “2020 Ardeth and Norman Frisbey International Graduate Student Award”. I was awarded the “Jose de la Torres Scholarship” and the “Black Research Fund Travel Award” in 2018 by the College of Agricultural Sciences. My department has also supported me through a variety of awards: “James F & Marilyn Tammen Memorial Endowment” in 2020 and 2021, “Leonard J. Francl Memorial Endowment” in 2020, “Larry J. Jordan Memorial Endowment” in 2018, and the “Herbert Cole Jr. Fund” in 2018.

From MSA, I have received the Clark T Rogerson Research Award in 2019 to support a field trip and the Mentor Student Travel Award in the name of James M. Trappe in 2015. When I first came to the US to start my studies in mycology in 2014, I received an award from the “Internship Incentive Fund” by the Costa Rica Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología – Consejo Nacional para Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas and an award from the “International Travel Fund” by the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica that made possible my work at Western Illinois University and opened an array of research and professional opportunities for me.

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?

I want to start my own lab in a research institution where I can mentor students and conduct research in the tropics.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

Bifiguratus adelaidae because its description was part of my master’s work and part of the work that led me to the mycology field.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

That even though there is so much research about fungi there is still so much to be discovered. And that the lack of knowledge and abundance of misinformation related to fungi in the general public actually gives US many opportunities to share our love for fungi (and knowledge) with others

Who is your mycology role model?

Drs. Andrea Porras-Alfaro and Priscila Chaverri because representation matters and seeing the amazing work they have done over the years as Costa Rican female mycologists inspires me to pursue my mycological dreams

Any great stories from field work?

A few come to mind that are funny in retrospective but were not so much in the moment, like hearing a jaguar close by and thinking that was it for me or discovering parasites under my skin after a field trip.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I spend a really big part of my free time doing volunteer/leadership work through different organizations and committees. I also enjoy being a mentor to female students in STEM and participate in different mentorship opportunities. After all that there is little free time left, but I enjoy traveling to new places, being outdoors, singing, and watching TV series.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

If you want to know more about my work, please visit my website: terrytorrescruz.com Also, I have a small community science project where I ask people doing work in northern South America to report observations of the system I am working with for my main PhD project (see info on my website).