March/April 2019

March Student Spotlight – Earl Kang

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!

April Student Spotlight – 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

April Student Spotlight – 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!