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Fungal Extremophiles in Human Environments


<P> We will build a collection of extremophile fungi from human environments, and use molecular genetic approaches to study their diversity on the species level. We will develop and deliver an outreach presentation aimed at K-12 students that builds their understanding of molds and their roles in homes and food spoilage, and also write two articles about indoor fungi to be published on the Cornell Mushroom Blog, a website aimed at the general public that promotes learning about fungi. We will examine the interactions of multiple molds in vitro, to discover the impact of communities on mycotoxin and spore production. The conclusion of our studies will shed light on the possible impacts of mold communities in homes and on food. </P>

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<P>NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Extremophile molds don't just live in strange and faraway places like deserts and the South Pole. Many of them live in our homes, degrading our foods and components of our houses. We don't understand much about how extremophile fungi affect human and animal health, because standard methods of studying fungi often overlook them. This project focuses on the communities of extremophile fungi in human environments: what are they and where are they living? how do they interact with other fungi living in the same place? what conditions cause them to make more spores and toxins? The project will help us understand some of the impacts extremophiles have on humans. The results will help us decide how significantly they can affect our health. During this project, at least 6 undergraduate students will learn how to participate in scientific research, and one graduate student will develop her skills scientific research. Through its K-12 outreach component and articles published on the internet, the project will help teach the public about these unusual fungi and their roles in our lives. </P>
<P>APPROACH: Extremophile fungi will be collected using standard methods: by culturing from samples of standard, selective culture media of high osmotic strength. They will be identified using both microscopy and DNA sequencing. In vitro studies of interaction will be used to study antagonism and mycotoxin production using both microscopy and analysis for toxins in collaboration with Cornell's Veterinary Toxicology Laboratory. Results will be communicated through scientific articles submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals; DNA sequence information will be submitted to GenBank. Outreach efforts will be evaluated using surveys and feedback solicited from participating teachers. The impact of Cornell Mushroom Blog articles can be measured by public response, and also through the analysis of statistics on websites visits via Google Analytics. Impacts on undergraduate students and one graduate student involved in the project will be evaluated at regular lab meetings and exit interviews. </P>

Hodge, Kathie Therese
Cornell University
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