When you work with fungi, it’s hard to ignore just how prevalent they are in our lives. Bread, beer, cheese, wine, and even the “good” fungi that help our crops grow, show that our society couldn’t function without this kingdom of life. But what fungi giveth, fungi can also taketh away. In fact, fungi are the #1 cause of plant diseases throughout the world. These fungal plant diseases can have major impacts on society.

Although they are both interesting and important, I am not going to talk about fungal plant diseases today. Fungi can also have major, negative impacts on wildlife populations. In fact, because of fungi, we have seen some of the largest wildlife die-offs ever recorded. I want to introduce you to a few of them here:

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If you’ve been following along with my “Sea turtle egg fusariosis” campaign for the last 2 weeks, you’ve heard a lot about Fusarium infecting sea turtle eggs.

But, what is Fusarium exactly? We know it’s a fungus, but does it do anything other than infect sea turtle eggs?

Of course it does! Here are a few fantastic facts about Fusarium to make your #FungalFriday complete!

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51% funded! What an exciting first week-and-a-half it has been!

I’ve been overwhelmed by the support thus far, thank you to all those who have donated and shared information about my project….

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As I began planning this project, one of the most challenging questions I faced was “how am I going to choose where to sample?”. As it turns out, picking a state was easy. 90% of the Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting in the United States occurs in Florida. Attempting to narrow down where in Florida I might try to sample, I stumbled across NOAA’s (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). ..

 

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Check out the first lab note from my experiment.com campaign here.

The last 2 months have been extremely busy, yet incredibly rewarding. After a long semester of planning, the onset of spring weather (finally) allotted me the chance to implement some outreach events!

Outreach, I believe, is a fundamental part of being a scientist that is just as important as publishing research. After much success with the events listed below, I am certainly looking forward to planning and executing more outreach events in the months (and years) to come.

STEM Career Launch – Penn State Harrisburg

On March 9th, I travelled to one of Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses, Penn State Harrisburg, to participate in a STEM Career Launch for approximately 120 9th grade students. This program was organized by the Office of Multicultural Recruitment and Community Affairs.

Dr. Kari Peter and I lead sessions discussing plant diseases, the roles and duties of a plant pathologist, the path to our current careers, as well as some fun plant pathogen-related activities (courtesy of the American Society for Phytopathology k-12 outreach website).

But if that didn’t sell the students on how dynamic plant pathology, as a discipline, can be, we also had some moldy apples and fungal cultures for them to look at under a dissecting microscope!

You can check out the press release about my involvement in the event here.

Earth Day Birthday – Millbrook Marsh 

Millbrook Marsh Nature Center is a 62-acre land area maintained through the Centre Regional Recreation Authority and consisting of several habitat types, most of which is riparian wetland and calcareous fen.

On April 17th, Millbrook held their annual Earth Day Birthday Event, complete with wildlife and educational exhibits as well as fun activities for families in and around Centre County.

Penn State Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology prepared an exhibit of fungal cultures, microscopes, informational pamphlets and, of course, oyster mushrooms from our mushroom research center.

Over 500 people attended Earth Day Birthday this year, many of which stopped by to learn about the wonderful world of fungi and the plant disease woes that farmers must deal with all the time. Unsurprisingly, the kids loved the microscopes, but I think I got through to a few adults as well about the incredible fungal world around us.

Quote of the day: “That’s the most disgusting and fantastic thing I’ve ever seen” – a 10 year old child after running up to the microscopes.

Check out the press release here.

Penn State Plant Sciences Recruitment Day 

Last but not least in this outreach marathon was the Plant Sciences Recruitment Day, organized by the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State.

We hosted approximately 50 students from 2 Philadelphia high schools and lead 4 plant pathology sessions. Each session involved a 10 minute talk on plant diseases and their impact on the past, present and future, followed by three interactive stations: 1) fungal microscopy; 2) diagnosing plant diseases; and 3) mushroom cultivation and technology.

Along with plant pathology, students were given the opportunity to learn about arboriculture, landscape design and hydroponics.

Despite our general game plan, each session was very different, with every group of students bringing a variety of personalities, interests and questions. Hopefully we convinced a few students that plant pathology is an excellent career choice!

Check out the press release here.