Xiomy-Janiria Pinchi-Dávila

morchella - Xiomy Janiria Pinchi Dávila

Xiomy is a Master’s student that grew up in Pucallpa, Peru. She is currently
doing her research at Western Illinois University with the guidance of Dr.
Andrea Porras-Alfaro.

Tell us about your project!
My project focuses on the description of a new fungus within Pleosporales
using multi-locus sequencing and microscopy, then I will try to see how this
fungus interacts with native grasses under drought and heat stress. Another objective is to try to elucidate if there is host specificity of certain strains over Bouteloua gracillis, B. eripoda or B. dactyloides.
Awards you would like to brag about?
My poster was awarded the first place by the Illinois State Academy of Science
in the annual meeting this year. I received a scholarship from the Women in
Science Club at Western Illinois University.
What are your career goals/plans for after you are done with your current
I plan to pursue a Ph.D and study the evolution and ecology of mycorrhizal
fungi or fungal endophytes.
What is your favorite fungus and why?
I don’t have a favorite fungus but I love micro-ascomycetes. I love the colors of
the colonies and how these tiny organisms produce beautiful and amazing
sexual and asexual structures.
What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?
How plastic they are, how they completely change during their teleomorph and
anamorph phases.
Who is your mycology role model?
Giuliana Furci. She’s the first mycologist woman in Chile and founder of The
Fungi Foundation, the first NGO dedicated to the kingdom of Fungi in the
world.She changed the policies of Chile regarding the conservation of fungi.
Any great stories from field work?
Nothing special.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
I like watching drama or thriller movies, painting or crocheting.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Many times language barriers prevent students interested in any science to
learn more. I have seen many cases in my home country during the Latin
American Congress of Mycology that is why I decided to create a Facebook
page called Hongos Peru where I share recent publications, translate the
abstracts and post funny facts of fungi (All in spanish).

Tania Kurbessoian

Photo of me. - AWIS UCR

Tania Kurbessoian is a PhD student that grew up in Los Angeles, California.
She is currently doing her research at the University of California-Riverside with
the guidance of her advisor Dr. Jason Stajich.

Tell us about your project!
Currently I am looking into studying fungi in Desert Biocrusts. Biocrusts
(Biological Soil Crusts) are a complex assemblage of different organisms
(cyanobacteria, eukaryotic algae, lichens, bryophytes, bacteria and fungi) that
all work together to survive in that environmental niche. There are biocrusts
found all over the world in many unusual niches but we have chosen to look
into hot desert environments. These desert biocrusts are considered to be the
desert’s “living skin” and many National Parks have started to consider this and
are conserving their diversity by asking visitors to avoid stepping off the trails.
My work looks into a later successional biocrust composed mainly of lichen and
cyanobacteria. This cyanolichen crust main lichen species is a Collema sp.
which helps us identify the crust when we are looking for more specimens. The
general observations for fungi has indicated a variety of resilient Ascomycetes
but also a propensity to harbor black yeasts. I have been working on culture
dependent and culture independent methods of understanding the fungal
diversity of these biocrusts. Using a combination of minimal media and
antibiotics we’ve been able to isolate, grow and store these fungi. We’re hoping
to understand their function and role in the crusts through a myriad of different
metabolomic and flux testing.
Awards you would like to brag about?
I was the 2019 winner of the Emory Simmons Research Award from MSA!
What are your career goals/plans for after you are done with your current
After finishing up my PhD at UC Riverside- I would like to do a post doc at a
NASA facility. I’m very interested in extremophilic organisms and the possibility
of panspermia depositing life forms onto new planets (this being a hypothesis
for how life started on ours).
What is your favorite fungus and why?
I spend some of my time looking for fungi that are really great specimens to dye
fiber with. Fungal dyes only stick to animal fibers and not plant fibers
(cotton/flax). My favorite fungi that I can get a beautiful dye from is Ompahlotus
olivascens, a west coast relative to Ompalotus olearius. When boiling the
fungus with the wool the natural color that comes out is a gorgeous purple, but
while using an iron mordant we can get a variety of different forest/olive
greens. Both green and purple are my favorite colors! Also these fungi are
spooky and glow in the dark.
What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?
My favorite thing about fungi is that we still really do not know much about
them. I also love how it can bring a variety of different people from different age
ranges to a table and to marvel at their beauty and diversity.
Who is your mycology role model?
A great conservationist, illustrator, and dabbler in mycology my role model is
Beatrix Potter. Her tenacity and love of arts inspires me to believe that
combining the sciences and art is vital to understand the complexities of this
Any great stories from field work?
Didn’t think I needed hiking boots while collecting crust from Joshua Tree
National Park- the cholla cactus proved me wrong.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
Other than dyeing fibers with mushrooms- I like to use that wool to create fiber
goods, though it has been some time since I’ve dabbled in it. I also enjoy other
crafts such as needlepoint and tatting (not tattoos, a type of lace making) but
also fermented goods like beer, wine, mead and pickled things.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’ve been working on my science Instagram/Twitter which you are all welcome
to follow me along this journey. Instagram: @BlackYeastUnleashed, Twitter

2019-2020 Elections

Learn more about who is running and vote for new members here



Rebecca Shay

PhD Candidate, Michigan State University

Rebecca Shay

Hello! My name is Rebecca Shay, and I’m a grad student at Michigan State University. I work in the Trail lab on Fusarium graminearum-host interactions, specifically the defense response to F. graminearum in barley trichomes. This will be my third year on the MSA Student Section board, moving from Communication Chair to Vice-Chair, and then to Chair. I look forward to helping keep the Student Section active in the society and doing many things that benefit our members and the greater science community. I love the opportunities the Student Section provides for graduate students and postdocs to get involved in the mycology community. Outside of MSA, I’m an Outreach Committee co-chair for the Mid-Michigan chapter of Graduate Women in Science, and helping to plan the GWIS National Conference this next year, as well as being on the planning committee of the A.H. Smith Lake States Mycological Foray. I look forward to serving the Student Section this upcoming year!


Vice Chair:

Robert Powers

PhD Candidate, University of Michigan

Robert Powers

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan working in Tim James’ lab. My research is primarily focused on understanding the genetic, epigenetic and gene regulatory mechanisms during mating and heterokaryosis in the mushroom-forming members of the Agaricomycotina. Prior to my PhD studies, I received my Master’s degree from the University of Michigan, also in Tim James’ lab, studying both sexual selection and biogeography in the Coprinellus disseminatus species complex.  My passion for mycology bloomed later in life – my undergraduate training was in computer science and ethnomusicology. I worked for ten years in the information technology sector in San Francisco before deciding that my true calling was mycology. I served the last year as secretary of the MSA Student Section, and am running for Vice-Chair because the Society and the Student Section were instrumental in helping me transition into mycology, and I would like to help bring my enthusiasm and passion for fungi to other students as well. My previous experience on an executive board was as a member of the Tech-Underground technology co-operative, a group that provides technology services to non-profit, community, and arts groups – a co-operative of which I was also a founding member.  



Sara Getson

Master’s student, Michigan State University

Sara Getson

My name is Sara Getson and I am currently a master’s student at Michigan State University in plant pathology. Growing up in an Eastern European household, I went out hunting mushrooms with my dad ever since I was a kid. Then, in college, my love for mushrooms really blossomed as I minored in plant pathology and mushroom science and technology at Penn State and worked on research projects under five different professors there. Now in my graduate work, I have the privilege of continuing my mycology work as I focus on the identification of Fusarium species in asparagus, ginseng, and celery through genetic and morphological characteristics. Along with my research, I have had the opportunity to help with, lead, and present at many mycologically oriented activities and workshops at Penn State, Michigan State, and in the wider communities. Some include lecturing for the Midwest Mycology Information (MAMI) mushroom expert certification workshop for the state of Michigan, running hands-on mushroom identification activities for a Girl Scout troop in Pennsylvania, as well as the Graduate Women in Science ‘Girls in Math and Science day’.

Previously, at Penn State, I served as secretary for both the Blooms and Shrooms plant pathology club and for the ballroom dance club, as well as the webmaster for the campus Newman club. Because of these opportunities, I have gained valuable experience in and understanding of this type of position and given my passion for fungi, I would be honored at the opportunity to serve as the MSA student section secretary for the 2019-2020 year.


Post-doctoral Representative:

Lotus Lofgren

PhD/postdoc, University of Minnesota

Lotus Lofgren

I’m a finishing PhD student (Defending May 15th) in University of Minnesota’s Dep. of Plant and Microbial Biology, working with Dr. Peter Kennedy on mechanistic fungal ecology, genomics and bioinformatics. I’m a founding member of Fungal Garden, a living laboratory, gourmet mushroom farm and outreach initiative, housed on the U of MNs St. Paul campus since 2011. I just stepped down from the leadership board of Mycology Club at the University of Minnesota, where I have served since 2014 as secretary (1 year), outreach coordinator (1 year) vice president (2 years), and president (1 year). The club hosts numerous science outreach events, as well as public forays, mushroom ID classes and cultivation workshops, hosts speakers and organizes a mycology journal club. I’m interested in serving as a post-doctoral representative on the MSA student board to help as needed, gain experience on national leadership panels, and advocate for the inclusion of issues and perspectives relevant to post doctoral scholars.


Merchandise Chair:

Savannah Gentry

Phd, University of Wisconsin

Savannah Gentry

Hi, I’m Savannah Gentry and currently in the Botany PhD program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A part of the Pringle Lab, I work on fungal pathogen-host interactions and pathogen ecology, namely with Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola and Nannizziopsis guarroi responsible for snake fungal disease and yellow fungal disease, respectively. Outside of research I co-founded and am currently co-president of a graduate support organization for underrepresented graduate students in STEM named Community. Our goal in Community is to provide resources i.e. financial, professional, and cultural, for graduate students of the university. I’m currently the Merchandise Chair for the MSA student section board and have enjoyed working with fellow board members, MSA executive board members, and the MSA community to share in the wonderfulness that is fungi. This will be my second year and I hope to remain the Merchandise Chair, coming in with even more effectiveness and know-how than before, to help the Student Section grow.




  • Chance Noffsinger


Graduate Student, Montana State University

Chance Noffsinger

Hello, my name is Chance Noffsinger, and I’m a Master’s student at Montana State University working under Dr. Cathy Cripps. My research focuses on understanding the diversity and distribution of Russula in the Rocky Mountain Alpine zone. I’m running for the Executive board of the MSA student section because I want to build a career focused on mycological research and education and the Mycological Society of America has been an integral part of my growth as a scientist. I want to continue to provide other students with the inspiration and resources that the MSA students section continues to provide me. Specifically, I’m running for Communication Chair because I believe scientific communication and outreach are crucial to the future of science, especially now when the public’s mistrust of science is uncomfortably high. I would be responsible for managing the social media accounts of the MSA student section and I believe that social media plays an important role in scientific communication in positive and negative ways. Therefore, if elected, I will make it my duty to communicate positive, useful, and informative information to our mycological community. I would also look forward to contributing articles to Inoculum and featuring our diverse community of students on our website. As an undergraduate, I represented my local honor society on the College of Agriculture student council and was responsible for communicating between the two organizations and advocating for student interests. As a graduate student, I’m involved in teaching and scientific outreach focused on mycology to undergraduate and K-12 students.


  • María-José Romero-Jiménez


Graduate Student, Western Illinois University

María-José Romero-Jiménez

Hello, my name is María-José Romero-Jiménez and I am a graduate student at Western Illinois University. I do research at Dr. Andrea Porras-Alfaro Fungal Ecology laboratory on the description of Darksidea species and the effect they have on grasses. My first MSA meeting was in 2017. The conference was a beautiful experience where I met new people that were passionate about fungi. Since then, I have been interested in getting a little bit more involved with the mycology community and sharing it with everyone. Because of this I am interested in the Communication Chair position at the Student Section. I think that the position will allow me to meet and work with exciting people I don’t know and learn new things. I believe that it will push me out of my comfort zone and it will allow me to share with many others why fungi and mycologists are awesome. At WIU I am the vice-president of the Biology Graduate Student Association and we participate in several outreach activities like Biology Day, Discover Western and Girl Scout STEM. If we are aware of a conference, we send emails with deadlines for registrations and abstract submission. As a member of the Fungal Ecology Lab, I co-coordinated the botany section of Harry Potter Summer Camp and helped in other outreach activities. One of the things I like is sharing with everyone our work and the outreach activities we do either on the Facebook page of the lab.




  • Austin N. Frewert


Graduate Student, Washington State University

Austin N. Frewert

My name is Austin Frewert and I am from upstate New York and there are three interests that have always been in my life… fungi, plants and mountain biking!  I am studying soil-microbe interactions in the Cheeke Lab at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland, WA. My master’s research is focused on synergistic plant responses to co-amendments of mycorrhizal fungi and biochar when grown in contaminated mine soil. I am also interested in the ecological aspects of mycorrhizal helper bacteria, bacterial and fungal siderophores, and the affect of our changing environment on belowground interactions. I am running for treasurer to contribute to the MSA community and to encourage interest and involvement in mycology. I think it is important to be involved the community, to encourage your peers and support them as they grow. I currently volunteer at my local bicycle repair co-op where I can share what I know as well as learn something new. I am eager to share my passion for mycology by contributing to the community through Inoculum as well as social media outlets, while broadening my volunteer experience. Thank you, I look forward to meeting you at MSA 2019.


Communication Chair:


  • Tania Kurbessoian


Graduate Student, University of California Riverside

Tania Kurbessoian

My previous experience in school or organization affiliated volunteering has been occurring for the past 8 years. As an undergraduate and Masters student at Cal State Northridge I’ve worked with the local chapter of ASM (on my campus was called MSA too, Microbiology Students Association) as the Secretary, Treasurer then President for 4 years (2012-2016). I’ve organized, planned and executed many microbiology related events (Beer Brewing, Wine Making, Networking, CLS). For the past 5 years I have also been involved with my local mycological organization (Los Angeles Mycological Society- LAMS), setting up events at the OC Fair and the Natural History Museums to better engage with everyday folk and to get them interested in fungi! Coming to UC Riverside I began involving myself in the local Micro-GSA (Graduate Student Association) as an outreach coordinator, Vice President and now President. I was the Social Outreach coordinator at another organization called AWIS (Association for Women in Science), and am now the Co-President. AWIS fosters stronger bonds for women in all parts of science, connecting them to proper mentors who can take them to the right places, and just being an overall support system for women in science. I believe organizations like these and the MSA Student Section only helps enrich the experience of being an early scientist and helps garner other skills that may not be available as just a student. Currently I am in the Stajich lab, studying the role of melanized fungi in biological crust systems through Microbiology, Computational Biology and Mycological techniques. Follow me on @BlackYeastUnleashed on Instagram and @BYUnleashed on Twitter for updates!


  • Megan Buland


Graduate Student, University of Georgia

Megan Buland

Hi, my name is Megan and I am a graduate student in the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of Georgia, where I study root-feeding beetles and their associated phoretic fungal communities under the direction of Dr. Caterina Villari.  I would be honored to serve as the MSA Student Communication Chair in the upcoming year. I have served as a core officer with Warnell’s graduate student association in the past, as well as serving on committees in association with the American Phytopathological Society.  I am active in social media, including Twitter (you can find me @MeganLou89), and would be prepared to assume such responsibilities as are associated with the Communication Chair position. Additionally, I am a contributing author at the Athens Science Observer where I greatly enjoy writing about the natural world around us, and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to represent the MSA Student Section in Inoculum.  I am passionate about fungi and would value the opportunity to work more closely with the MSA, and specifically the graduate student community, in the upcoming year. I hope you will consider voting for me as your Student Communications Chair and look forward to seeing you all in Minnesota!


Rebecca Shay

Rebecca Shay is a PhD student at Michigan State University and is originally from Grand Haven, Michigan. She is currently working in the lab of Dr. Frances Trail. Her primary project focuses on understanding early infection responses of Fusarium graminearum in barley. Specifically, one of her projects looks at a natural defense response in barley trichomes where the barley produces a burst of cellulose and lignin in response to fungal penetration, and she has found a locus in the barley that’s significant in this response and can be used in future plant breeding efforts to help protect plants against Fusarium Head Blight.

What awards have you received during your graduate career?

I’m thankful MSU has such a strong mycology interest, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive both the A.L. Rogers Fellowship and the Beneke Fellowship which are both mycology-specific! 

What are your career goals?

I’d like to work in industry when I’m done my PhD. I love being able to work in a lab and industry has real-world applications that definitely helps motivate me. 

What is your favorite fungus and why?

I love puffballs. They’re so much fun to puff, and such a good introduction for the public to mushrooms and mycology since they’re easy to identify and entertaining for all ages! 

What is your favorite thing about fungi?

I just love the diversity of fungi, and it’s always fun to talk to non-mycologists about how strange fungi are as a group of organisms. I do a lot of outreach, and it’s always fun to talk about how fungi are more closely related to animals than  plants, and show the vast diversity in morphologies of fungi. 

Who is your mycology role model?

Ruth Allen is one of my role models. She did her PhD at my alma mater (UW-Madison) and was a pioneer for women in botany and plant pathology.

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

I like to hike, bake, knit, and watch TV. I also spend a lot of time making silly hats for my cat Peanut to wear because he tolerates them and is adorably goofy. 

Anything else we should know about you?

Outreach is a great way to make the public less intimidated by scientists! It’s often easy to get involved with already established groups, and mycology is always a good thing to talk about! If you need inspiration, the Student Section has some resources (https://msastudents.org/outreach-materials/)! 

Chance Noffsinger

Chance Noffsinger is a native of Whitefish, Montana and currently working in the lab of Dr. Cathy Cripps at Montana State University, Bozeman. Chance’s research focuses on assessing the diversity, distribution, and ecology of the genus Russula in the Rocky Mountain alpine zone. Dr. Cathy Cripps and Chance have found over 150 collections of Russula from the Rocky Mountains and preliminary analysis indicates that at least 10 species are present. However, all of the tentatively identified species were originally described from Europe. Therefore, all Russula collections are being subjected to an in-depth morphological study and a systematic molecular analysis of multiple genetic loci. For the purpose of identification, Rocky Mountain Russula collections will be compared to type specimens or specimens from type localities for all tentatively identified European species. The systematic analysis will also include collections from alpine and Arctic regions worldwide to determine if these Russula species are endemic, intercontinentally distributed, or if cryptic species exist. Chance’s work will also produce a key for the identification of Alpine Russula in the Rocky Mountains which will promote future ecological research into the impact of this important ectomycorrhizal genus because little is known about the species present or how to identify them.

Any awards we should know about?

In 2018 I received the Ben Woo Grant from the Puget Sound Mycological Society to support the cost of my molecular work and I received funding for field work from the John W. Marr Fund based out of the University of Colorado Boulder. I would like to thank both organizations for supporting my research focused on Alpine Russula. Without the support of the Puget Sound Mycological Society and the John. W. Marr Fund my research would not have been possible.

What are your Career goals?

Currently, I’m pursuing a Master’s degree from Montana State University. Following graduation I plan on applying for a PhD program. I’m interested in using genomic data to understand fungal evolution within the Basidiomycota. However, the more I study fungi the more I’m enticed by all aspects of the field and I would consider a broad range of topics for future study. But, I’m also very interested in fungal genetics, molecular clock analysis, genomic analysis, the Russulales, and alpine fungi.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

My favorite fungus is Macowanites luteolus which was recently changed to Russula stricklandorum (Elliott and Trappe 2018). Macowanites used to represent a group of hypogeous russuloid fungi and now molecular analysis has confirmed their placement within the genus Russula. R. stricklandorum is my favorite because they are extremely difficult to find like most hypogeous fungi and upon further examination the collector is pleasantly surprised to see a vestigial stem and a tightly folded egg yolk yellow hymenium. I also enjoy the strong amyloid reaction of the spores which was one of the original microscopic characteristics that drew me into studying the genus Russula.

What is your favorite fact about fungi?

It’s more of a theory than a fact but, I’m very intrigued by the idea that terrestrial fungi predate land plants and possibly assisted them in the colonization of land sometime around 475 million years ago.

Who is your mycology role model?

My mycological role model is definitely my adviser, Dr. Cathy Cripps. Her supportive teaching style and dedication to mycology have helped me grow in numerous ways as a young scientist

Any good stories from the field?

All I’m gonna say is that the view from my field sites at 10,000 feet on the Beartooth Plateau is pretty hard to beat!

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

I enjoy snowboarding in the winter and rock climbing, mushroom hunting, and softball in the summer!

Austin Frewert

Austin Frewert is a native of Otsego County, NY and is currently a MS student at Washington State University, working in the lab of Dr. Tanya Cheeke.

His research focuses on investigating the efficacy of mycorrhizal fungi and biochar to restore plant communities on abandoned mine sites. His goal is to determine if co-amending highly degraded mine soil with mycorrhizal fungi and biochar will produce synergistic plant responses. Austin is incorporating both, arbuscular and ectomycorrhizal fungi into his experiments by using native soil inoculum from intact reference sites. He looks forward to contributing to the growing body of knowledge of mycorrhizal ecology and ecological restoration. Austin recently received the WSU 2019 Betty Higinbotham Award. Austin is currently searching for a doctorate program that will allow him to pursue a career as a research scientist with a state or federal agency.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

I am partial to the Boletales, so I’d have to say Suillus spraguei. It’s mycorrhizal, and specific to the five-needle pines. It produces a beautiful fruit body and reminds me of my home in upstate N.Y.

Who is your mycology role model?

I’d have to say Dr. Thomas Horton, who turned me on to mycorrhizal ecology and provided me with many great experiences and opportunities as an undergraduate. I would not have the passion for science and the skillset that I do now if it were not for him.

Any great stories from field work?

While working in Sequoia National Park this past summer I was walking through a large open meadow and came within a split second from stepping on an impressively large rattlesnake. My heart sank into my boots and I slowly backed away.  I like to think my habit of scanning the ground for mushrooms is what saved me.

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

Biking, hiking, gardening, binging true crime podcasts, playing saxophone, haiku

Anything else we should know about you?

I am always looking to have a good chat about ecology and future collaborations. After my master’s I want to include fungal genetics and scanning electron microscopy into my doctoral research and bring new approaches to ecological restorations. I look forward to becoming more involved in MSA in 2019

S. Earl Kang, Jr.

S. Earl Kang, Jr. is a PhD student at the University of Georgia and is originally from Southern California. He is currently working in the lab of Dr. Michelle Momany. His primary project is understanding conidial germination via transcriptomics based approach. Earl is interested in using the transcript expression profiles to develop diagnostic methods for assessing persistent Aspergillus infections. He is also studying environmental impact on evolution of azole resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus and the mechanisms contributing to azole resistance. Several years ago he received a Sustainability Award from the University of California San Diego, his undergraduate institution, for co-founding and being involved in an urban farm/community garden at UCSD (Roger’s Urban Farm aka Roger’s Community Garden & Neighborhood Community Garden). As Earl states, “Sustainable agriculture is very important to me. During my undergrad I spent a significant time learning about sustainable agriculture and exchanging ideas with other like minded folks. This eventually led to starting the farm and my foray into the sciences (my undergrad degree is in Business economics).”

What are your career goals?

I am applying for jobs at companies that use synthetic biology to create novel products for improving materials production, agriculture, and healthcare.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

Fistulina hepatica – beefsteak fungus.

I am amazed by the variety of metabolites fungi are able to produce.  I find it amazing that this particular fungus produces metabolites and proteins which makes the fruiting body bleed red and look like raw meat.  Even more incredible is that when you cook it, it smells just like steak.

If we are able to understand how F. hepatica orchestrates the production of these metabolites/proteins and recreate it in the lab we might be able to change how people view alternative protein sources and change our modern food system.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

I appreciate all the diverse biological processes fungi have evolved to survive and the rate of adaptation to the ever changing world. Fungi are a wonderful system to study evolution and indicators for how higher eukaryotes may need to learn to adapt to environmental changes in the future (or in space).

Who is your mycology role model?

All the mycologists who unlocked the secrets of fungi through observation without sequencing technology and fluorescent proteins. I really appreciate the knowledge we can still gain from observing old microscopy images to elucidate biological function.

Any great stories from fieldwork?

I like to consider myself as an excellent molecular biologist and strive to maintain a safe work environment. First time in the field looking for azole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus I wore my personal protective equipment + my farming outfit. Our collaborators couldn’t stop laughing at me, but I assure you that there was no cross-contamination between sites!

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

Wait… grad students get free time? I enjoy creating edible landscapes; cooking and hosting pop-up dinners; discussing ideas, science, politics, and philosophy with friends; and exploring the outdoors with my dog.  I spend a lot of time filling holes in my yard as a result of working on training my dog to sniff out pecan truffles and mushrooms.

Anything else we should know about you?

We live in a really exciting time where technology is allowing us to expedite scientific progress and add to the web of knowledge. Read broadly and expand the limits of your imagination!

November and December Student Spotlight

November student spotlight:

img_5308 - heather slinn

Heather Slinn is a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph and originally from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She is currently working in the labs of Drs. Jonathan Newman and Lee Dyer. Her current project focuses on understanding the natural history of the interactions between plants and their seed dispersers which are critical for terrestrial communities. Seed dispersers can have profound impacts on plant fitness and plant community composition by transporting seeds away from parent plants to maximize offspring success or providing the necessary conditions to trigger germination through scarification. However, it is not known how passage through dispersers’ guts affect seed fungal communities. Ecological filters that alter fungal community assemblages can affect plant fitness by providing chemical defense against antagonists and increasing germination. For instance, chemically mediated mutualistic interactions, where fungi and associated defensive compounds are passed from parent to offspring through the seed coat, have been well documented in temperate systems (e.g., this occurs in cool season grasses). In the tropics, much less is understood about these interactions. Heather’s research seeks to identify changes to the seed fungal community of Piper sancti-felicis (Piperaceae) after passage through bat guts. Piper is the same plant genus that the common spice, black pepper comes from. Her research evaluates the antifungal properties of an important class of secondary metabolites (alkenylphenols). This is extracted from fruit to assess whether is acts as a filter for fungal colonization prior to dispersal.

When she finishes her PhD, Heather would like to continue her work as a postdoc investigating fungal mediated interactions in Piper. She is hoping to graduate in 2 years.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

Cordyceps because it is awesome at infecting the brains of arthropods and manipulating behavior.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

Fungi make an extraordinary diversity of secondary metabolites that play all sorts of important ecological functions, but also serve critical roles in pharmacy (e.g. taxol) and other biotechnology. We understand such a small percentage of this diversity, there is huge application potential.

Who is your mycology role model?

I don’t have a single role model, but there are many women that I admire. Posy Busby at Oregon State, Betsy Arnold at the University of Arizona and Sue Hartley at York University in the UK. I met Sue at ESA a couple of years ago when I was giving a poster presentation on plant-insect interactions. She asked me what I was thinking about doing next, and I told her about my new work on fungi in Piper. Her eyes lit up in excitement and I looked down at her name tag and I got really excited because I hadn’t recognized her.

Any great stories from field work?

I nearly set La Selva Biological Station on fire once. Faulty drying oven. I’m still not sure who put that fire out. There is no alarm system. I also found a juvenile Terciopelo in my room. They are one of the most venomous vipers in Latin America. I repeated that story to tourists at the station. They looked terrified.

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

Running, biking, reading, working on my Spanish, joking around as much as possible and drinking wine (Malbec is my favorite).

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about promoting and supporting minorities in STEM. If you’d like to follow me for this, my handle is @h_slinn.

December student spotlight:

img_1048 - jacob golan

Jacob Golan is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, originally from Long Island, NY. He is currently working in the lab of Dr. Anne Pringle, where his research focuses on how fungi move – from across landscapes to across continents. He approaches questions regarding dispersal from a biophysical, genetic, genomic, and ecological perspective in order to better understand fungal biogeography and population dynamics. He is also interested in the intersection of microbial biology and intellectual property rights. During his time as a graduate student, Jacob has received several awards, including the NSF GRFP and the Chateaubriand Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Biology-Health (STEM). After completing his PhD, Jacob would like to go to law school and eventually work in legal academia on the intersection of microbial biotechnology and intellectual property rights

What is your favorite fungus and why?

Hemileia vastatrix is one of the coolest! Putative transoceanic dispersal + coffee = amazing!

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

Supposedly fungi won the American revolution…according to some, the British fleet was overrun by Serpula lacrymans

Who is your mycology role model?

Tie between Rytas Vilgalys and Anne Pringle

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

If editing manuscripts counts as field work, then I enjoyed editing my first chapter with my advisor in the bathroom of a former post-doc’s house. We needed a quiet space and we were down to the last minute.

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

I really like to read and to learn languages. Russian literature is by far my favorite

What are you passionate about?

I love working with undergraduates – it’s a great way to get extra help with your research and also to practice your teaching skills


Anat Belasen

Anat Belasen is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, originally from upstate New York. She is currently in Tim James’ lab, where she is researching the effects of forest fragmentation on frog health. Specifically, Anat is examining how frog host genetics change with fragmentation, and whether these genetic changes affect susceptibility to fungal pathogens and/or diversity of fungi and other microbes in the frog skin microbiome. When she finishes her PhD, Anat is looking for a post-doc where she can delve deeper into the mechanisms that lead to differences in infection susceptibility. She is thinking about using experimental approaches to examine coevolution between pathogenic fungi and their hosts. Anat was recently awarded a Predoctoral Fellowship from the graduate school at U of M, which she’s pretty excited about! She also thinks it’s pretty cool that she took home an oral presentation award from the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation a couple of years ago.

amanita - A nat

What’s your favorite fungus and why?

I love finding Cerioporus squamosus (the scaly polypore) in the park near my house in Ann Arbor. Can’t get enough of that watermelon rind smell!

What is your favorite thing about fungi?

We as humans have so many relationships with fungi – they attack us, they help us, we eat them, we domesticate them, some fear them, many love them.

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

Once I was out in the field at night in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil with another American student and a couple of Brazilian helpers. We saw what we thought was an extremely rare sighting: a blue Morpho butterfly that was out at night! We oohed and ahhed as it floated toward us… But as it approached, something very strange happened. While Morphos are known to be shy, when this guy got close to us it flew right into our faces (because it was attracted to our headlamps) and kept slapping us with its giant blue wings. It seemed to follow us for nearly half an hour, going from person to person and basically beating us up. A beautiful, serene moment had quickly turned to us being terrorized by this thing! Finally, one of the Brazilians who was out with us told us to turn off our headlamps and walk in darkness for a bit, which worked like a charm – the butterfly finally flew off. Later I talked with an entomologist who told me it actually must have been a Caligo moth, which look a lot like Morphos but are a lot more aggressive, and are notorious for laying the smacks on field biologists who are out at night with headlamps.

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

I love to garden. Nothing is as cool to me as growing my own food from a tiny seed. This year I’m trying out straw bale gardening – it’s basically a cheap and lazy way to make raised beds in any sunny spot in your yard or around your house.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

Shameless plug: check out my website for info about the outreach and scicomm I’m involved in, as well as some of my favorite photos that I’ve taken in the field – anatbelasen.weebly.com