Current Student Spotlight

Student Spotlights: October

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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
position?
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
world.

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
@BYUnleashed

 

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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
position?
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).