Fungus-friendly scientists meet in Tucson

March 07, 2005

Aficionados of the-fungus-among-us will gather at The University of Arizona March 11-13 for an annual international meeting of mycologists, the scientists who study fungi.

Fungi are worthy of study not only because they cause diseases, but also because of their vital role in ecosystems.

Sometimes having fungi inside their stems is a good thing for plants, said A. Elizabeth (Betsy) Arnold, curator of UA's Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium and an assistant professor of plant pathology. "It's often great. Such fungal endophytes can serve as plants' immune systems, in a sense."

Of course, fungi also can be detrimental to the plants. Arnold said that fungi are the most diverse and economically damaging group of plant pathogens.

Human health is also affected by fungi.

For example, one of the most potent and common airborne allergens is a fungus called Alternaria, said Barry Pryor, an assistant professor of plant pathology and the local host for the meeting. "We all breathe in Alternaria. But some of us sensitize to this fungus -- and we don't know exactly why." Pryor is one of a team of UA researchers investigating why Alternaria does such a good job of triggering allergic responses in people.

The mycologists' meeting will kick off with a talk on the evolutionary biology and genetics of fungi by noted lichenologist François Lutzoni of Duke University. His talk is sponsored by UA's division of plant pathology and microbiology and by UA's BIO5 Institute.

The meeting also will showcase the Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium, located on the UA campus in the newly renovated Herring Hall. The herbarium currently houses 40,000 fungal specimens, many of which were collected by Robert L. Gilbertson, curator emeritus of the herbarium, and his students.

"One hundred mycologists are going to be on campus, so it's a wonderful opportunity to honor him with his international colleagues," Arnold said. "We have specimens representing many, many species -- sometimes the only specimen." Arnold said such a comprehensive collection is an invaluable research tool.

Over the weekend, meeting attendees will listen to additional scientific presentations about the diversity, ecology and evolution of fungi.
-end-
The event, dubbed Deep Hypha, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Researchers interested in attending should contact Barry Pryor at bmpryor@u.arizona.edu or Meredith Blackwell at mblackwell@lsu.edu.

More information is available at the Deep Hypha meeting website: http://ocid.nacse.org/research/deephyphae/march2005info.html.

The Deep Hypha Research Coordination website is: http://ocid.nacse.org/research/deephyphae/

Contact information for researchers: Barry Pryor, 520-626-5312, bmpryor@u.arizona.edu

A. Elizabeth (Betsy) Arnold, 520-621-7212, arnold@ag.arizona.edu

* * *University of Arizona news is online @ http://uanews.org * * *

University of Arizona

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