August 2017

Laura Tipton is at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in Nicole Hynson’s lab where she is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Microbiome of the Built Environment Postdoctoral Fellow. She works on the longest aerobiota study and one of the longest microbial time-course studies known, looking at fungi captured in air filters over a 13-year period at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Because of the island’s remote location and the observatory’s high elevation, almost all of the fungi arrived via long distance dispersal so they have a lot of questions to ask about the community, starting with diversity and hopefully expanding to include the bacteria.

Before the move to Hawai’i, Laura grew up in Virginia and attended the University of Virginia for her undergraduate degree in biostatistics with a minor in dance. From there, she completed her Master’s degree in statistics from George Washington University and her PhD in computational biology from Carnegie Mellon-University of Pittsburgh. Laura’s dissertation was titled Quantitative Inferences from the Lung Microbiome, which used next-generation sequencing on samples from human lungs. This study looked for associations with inflammation markers in the human, predicted interactions between bacteria and fungi and how those interactions impact the microbial community network, and integrated multiple -omics technologies to get a better picture of the community metabolism.

What are your career goals? What are your plans for after your post-doc?

I’d love to be a professor. Since before starting my PhD, I wanted to be a research professor, in part because I have never taught a whole semester, college level course. Recently I’ve had two realizations that make me think I may like to be a “regular” professor just as much: 1) the scarcity of research-only positions, and 2) that teaching is teaching, no matter the subject, and I’ve always enjoyed teaching dance classes.

What is your favorite mushroom/fungus, and what do you like about it?

I’m partial to Emericella nidulans (aka Aspergillus nidulans) because it is the first (and so far, only) fungus I’ve grown in culture, but I’m open to new favorites as I learn more about different species.


Me with my first plates of E. nidulans grown at NYU 

What is your favorite thing/fact about mushrooms/fungi?

I don’t know if I’ve been in mycology long enough to have a favorite thing (I started my postdoc in January 2017) but I’m still in awe of the variety and ubiquity of fungi.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories about field or lab work?

Coming from a background in statistics, I didn’t do any lab work until my PhD. My first unsupervised lab task was to extract DNA from induced sputum (coughed up slime) samples, some of which originated from patients with HIV. My advisor was so surprised and proud to see me in the “wet” lab that she ran to get her phone and take a picture of me before she reminded me that I needed to be wearing a respirator and goggles due to the potential of HIV in the samples (I was following the rest of the safety protocols, I swear). It then became a tradition for her or someone else in the lab to take pictures of me every time I did anything in the wet lab.

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

I bake, play board games, and stand-up paddleboard, but mostly I dance. Specifically, I study a form of classical modern dance in the style of Isadora Duncan. Sometimes my work bleeds over into my hobbies; I recently presented work at the Isadora Duncan International Symposium analyzing the group of “Duncan dance” practitioners as a network.



Abigail Courtney grew up just outside of Manhattan in New York. She moved to New Jersey for her undergraduate education, where she got her B.S. in bioinformatics from Ramapo College of New Jersey. While there, she worked on an undergraduate research project titled Responses of growth, antioxidants and gene expression in smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) to various levels of salinity. While in New Jersey, Abbie completed a summer program through Rutgers University studying the molecular evolution of RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase in ticks.

From there, Abbie moved to the University of Georgia where she is currently a graduate student in Zachary Lewis’ lab. Her thesis is titled H2A.Z and Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 in Neurospora crassa: An unlikely partnership, where she examines how the three-dimensional structure of DNA affects gene expression. The Lewis lab is interested in identifying the mechanisms that govern the establishment and maintenance of silent chromatin in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. The Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 catalyzes the methylation of Lysine 27 on Histone 3 (H3K27me2/3). Polycomb group proteins assemble specialized repressive chromatin domains that are critical for proper gene regulation in plants, animals, and some fungi. The specific mechanisms of how Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 target domains are established and maintained are poorly understood. Abbie recently discovered that the histone variant H2A.Z is required for normal patterns of H3K27me2/3 in N. crassa. H2A.Z has been implicated in DNA repair, gene repression, and transcriptional activation. The focus of her thesis project is to define the mechanisms of these context-specific H2A.Z functions, including establishment or maintenance of H3K27me2/3. Abbie is a 2017 recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, MSA best graduate poster, and a GSA Career Development Symposia Grant to work with six other students from the University of Georgia to develop the Southeast Mycology Symposium (SEMS).


What are your career goals? What are your plans for after your PhD?

That’s what I am working on figuring out this year! After my PhD, I plan to continue my adventure in fungal biology working as a postdoc.

What is your favorite mushroom/fungus?

I think I am a little biased here, but I’m going to have to go with Neurospora crassa.

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

I read, crochet, and volunteer at the local animal shelter. I love to cook and prepare my meals for the entire week every Sunday.

Anything else you’d like to talk about (Career goals, outreach, science communication, photography)?

I am the VP of Digital Media for S.P.E.A.R. – Science Policy Education, Advocacy, and Research. SPEAR is a student organization that aims to provide a resource for discussion of science policy issues as well as a platform for initiating advocacy and promoting research within and beyond the University of Georgia.

I am the social media coordinator and webmaster for the UGA Fungal Group.

Every year I judge the junior division (grades 6-8) at the Georgia Science and Engineering Science Fair.

I am a volunteer expert for the “Ask an Expert” section of the website I help guide students who have questions related to their science fair projects.