August 13, 2013
13-227

Malynda Dorsey
Communications Specialist

VSU Students Study Fungi in Ireland

VALDOSTA – Dr. Emily Cantonwine, professor of mycology and plant pathology at Valdosta State University, studies fungal diseases and methods for control. Her findings can be used to determine fungicide effectiveness and to reduce disease development.

This summer, Cantonwine provided 11 students with the opportunity to get firsthand experience studying fungi during a Maymester trip to Ireland.

"The cool and wet climate in Ireland is great for fungal growth, so we felt like we would have a good chance of finding a variety of fungi there," said Cantonwine. “In addition, I developed the study abroad course because I studied abroad in the Bahamas when I was an undergraduate.  It was a great experience for me and I wanted to provide a similar opportunity for my students.”

The country's history also includes a great famine caused by the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora infestans. The Irish Potato Famine began in 1845 and spanned seven years - leading to the spread of disease, starvation and eventually emigration. It was the study of the late blight pathogen in response to the Irish Potato Famine that advanced the field to what is now call modern mycology.

The Maymester trip included weeks of collecting and processing samples in labs. The students visited Dublin and Waterford.

"We found lichens at and around cemeteries and at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin," said Cantonwine. "We also searched in the woods and visited an Agricultural Research Station to see some of the fungal pathogens found in Ireland."

Lectures and lab work were done at the Waterford Institute of Technology.

While in Dublin, students also visited the Book of Kells at Trinity College and toured the Wicklow Mountains to examine airborne fungal spores.

For Natalia Stevens, a senior at VSU, one of the highlights of the trip was touring the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

"One of our lectures was on fermentation," said Stevens. "During our tour of the brewery, we learned about and observed the fermentation process of yeast."

The students toured several well-known places near Waterford like the Johnstown Castle Agricultural Museum, the National Biodiversity Data Center, the John F. Kennedy Arboretum and St. Declan's Tower of Ardmore. Students also visited the Dumbrody Famine Ship, a replica of a ship that people boarded to migrate to the United States during the Irish Potato Famine.

"I have always thought that Ireland had an interesting culture," said Logan Petrey, a graduate student at VSU. "It was always somewhere I wanted to go and I am glad that I had this experience."

Cantonwine and her students were joined by a professor and nine students from Armstrong Atlantic State University during the trip to Ireland.

Some Students' Thoughts About the Trip

Cody Phillips, senior - "I am trying to go into the medical profession, specifically orthopedics. Learning about pathogens and seeing how they can infect people is definitely something that I can apply in my career."

Natalia Stevens, senior - "This trip really enhanced my research skills. After graduating, I plan to pursue a Masters in Public Health, so the research skills I acquired will really help me in my studies. When we did have free time on the trip, the citizens were very open to share their culture with us. Also, I could not ask for better scenery while doing school work."

Amy Vardeman, senior - "The trip provided me with an excellent opportunity to travel. Also, I plan to pursue a career in internal medicine, so becoming familiar with different pathogens was very beneficial."

Logan Petrey, graduate student - "This trip included an ample amount of work, but it was completely worth it. I plan to pursue a career in plant pathology and I am glad that I got to learn different lab techniques."

Eugene Rowell III, junior - "I am interested in a career in the dental field, specifically oral surgery. During the trip, I learned about different fungal antibiotics. One of the most interesting things I learned about was Pilobus, a fungus that grows out of horse fecal matter, launching its spores up to two meters.”