2020 MSA Distinction and Fellow Award Winners

Distinguished Mycologist Award
Dr. Gregory M. Mueller

Dr. Gregory M. Mueller presently serves as Chief Scientist and Negaunee Vice President of Science at the Chicago Botanic Garden, following his distinguished positions as Curator of Fungi and Chair of the Department of Botany at the Field Museum. He concurrently serves as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, and as an adjunct professor at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University. Greg studied with Walt Sundberg (Southern Illinois University) and Ron Petersen (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) for his M.S. and Ph.D., respectively. As a postdoc, he worked with Nils Fries (Uppsala University) and Joe Ammirati (University of Washington, Seattle). From these foundations, Greg developed an exceptional research program, now distinguished by well over 100 peer-reviewed publications and seven books/book-length volumes, with two main foci: monographic work, most notably investigations of Laccaria, and biodiversity inventories of macrofungi, e.g., in Costa Rica with Roy Halling. His studies have taken him to much of the Americas, Australasia, China, and Europe, making him a global authority on fungal biology. Greg has mentored 10 Ph.D. and 6 M.S. students, plus 6 postdoctoral scientists and more than 50 high school students and undergraduates. From his first funding from the National Science Foundation in 1982, Greg has garnered tremendous support from diverse national and international sources, both for his own research program and for institutional endeavors related to curation, digitization, education, and databasing. In recent years, Greg has increasingly focused on international fungal conservation. He developed and co-coordinates the Global Fungal Red List Initiative with Anders Dahlberg. He is active in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), where he is a member of the Steering Committee, serves as Regional Vice Chair for North America and the Caribbean, and chairs the specialist group focused on Agaricomycotina and the newly formed Fungal Conservation Committee. Greg has served the MSA in numerous capacities, most notably as President in 2006-2007. He was awarded the C.J. Alexopoulos Prize in 1992 and appointed as an MSA Fellow in 2011. Greg was named an AAAS Fellow in 2016, received the Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership (with Anders Dahlberg) from IUCN in 2015, and was recognized by the Founders Award from the European Mycological Association in 2019. Greg’s nominators highlighted his spectacular legacy in mycology, his early influence in molecular genetics of fungi, his roles as an ambassador of mycology at a global scale, and his supportive and encouraging mentorship and leadership style. The MSA appreciates that Greg has inspired countless mycologists with his kindness, professionalism, leadership, and expertise, making a truly lasting impact on our society and discipline.

William H. Weston Award for Excellence in Teaching
Dr. Cathy Cripps

Dr. Cathy Cripps is a Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology and Curator of the Fungal Herbarium at Montana State University. Cathy began teaching as a graduate student at Virginia Tech over 30 years ago — that is, when she fell in love with teaching and “molding” young minds. Her mentor, Orson K. Miller, was an excellent role model – and Cathy joins his lineage in another way here, as he won the Weston Award in 1989. Since the outset of her teaching career, Cathy has learned to split her time among her professional passions: her love of mushrooms, her research on alpine fungi and restoration, and her commitment to fostering excellence in her students in the classroom and beyond. Cathy now teaches Mycology, Ecology of Fungi, and a course on Mushrooms and Molds at Montana State University. Her rich teaching and mentorship portfolio include contact with over 600 students in her past role in teaching introductory biology, her contributions to developing MSU’s Howard Hughes Undergraduate Biology Program, and her mentorship as chair for eight graduate students. She has supported the professional development and training of two postdocs, and many undergraduate students, and she is a highly sought after committee member, serving on nearly 30 graduate committees. Cathy presents regularly to mushroom clubs, leads the Bozeman Montana Mycological Society, and has received the North America Mycological Association award for her contributions to para-professional mycology. But what she treasures most, in her words, are the students who have populated her lab over the years, both undergraduates and graduates. Many have gone on to remarkable careers—and this is who she holds responsible for being this year’s recipient of the W.H. Weston Excellence in Teaching Award. The MSA recognizes Cathy for her major and outstanding contributions in the classroom, lab, and field, shaping mycology for professionals and para-professionals for generations to come.

Gordon and Tina Wasson Award
Christian Lechat

Christian LeChat is an Independent Researcher and President of Ascofrance. He was born in 1952 and became interested in mushrooms in 1998, which means – in his words – he “started late”. However, his record of para-professional mycology speaks to more than a lifetime commitment. Like most mycologists, he started by collecting all the fungi he encountered, both fungi in the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. It was thanks to the fabulous paper by Amy Rossman and colleagues in 1999 that he became fascinated by hypocrealean fungi. Among the Hypocreales, Christian has a particular interest in Bionectriaceae and Nectriaceae, and he has a rich history of collaborations with Amy and others in the study of these lineages. In 2003, Christian was recruited by Professor Régis Courtecuisse at Lille University for a research program focusing on the mycobiota of the French West Indies. This research led to several publications of new species and genera. In 2003, Christian also founded the ASCOFRANCE website (www.ascofrance.fr), which now has more than 1500 subscribers around the world, supports an active forum, and presents thousands of images of ascomycete fungi. Since 2008, he has organized and conducted numerous mycological inventory missions in French Guiana with the support of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. He currently works with his colleague and friend Jacques Fournier on the Atlas de la Biodiversité Communale de Saül for the Parc National Amazonien de Guyane. This program started in 2018 and has already led to the publication of many new species of fungi in the Hypocreales and many yet to be published. Christian is a self-taught mycologist who brings to the discipline a careful eye, rich knowledge, tremendous enthusiasm, and a collaborative spirit that fosters the growth, future, and international spirit of mycology.

C.J. Alexopoulos Prize
Dr. Sara Branco

Dr. Sara Branco is currently an Assistant Professor in Department of Integrative Biology, at the University of Colorado Denver. She has been studying fungi since she was 16 years old, when she discovered an early and abiding passion for research. As part of her undergraduate degree at the University of Lisbon in Portugal she developed an independent study to examine mushroom diversity in forests, leading to her first publication – a single-authored paper. From this launching point, Sara went on to earn a highly competitive Fulbright Award to complete her Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago with Greg Mueller, where she studied the ecology and evolution of oak-fungal associations on serpentine soils. She then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where as a postdoc with John Taylor and Tom Bruns she expanded her scope to fungal genomics, addressing genomic signatures by which non-model fungi deal with stress. Her path then returned to Europe, where she studied mating type chromosomes in Microbotryum as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Paris with Tatiana Giraud. In 2017, she joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montana State University, where she has expanded her research program in the ecology and evolution of fungi. In seeking to define ecological factors that generate and maintain fungal diversity, she uses a combination of field, laboratory, and computational approaches to investigate how fungi colonize and persist in the environment. Her integrative studies range across diverse biological scales, from ecological communities to genomes and genes, with a particular emphasis on adaptation to challenging environments. Her nearly 30 peer-reviewed publications have appeared in high impact journals such as Nature Communications, PNAS, Molecular Ecology, and New Phytologist, with over 1600 citations to date (including over 1300 in the past six years alone). She has garnered over a million dollars in competitive funding over her career to date and is a sought-after and award-winning speaker, with more than 40 invited and contributed presentations in the last three years alone. In parallel with her passion for research, Sara is also committed to promoting effective science communication and increasing diversity in science and has a history of service and leadership roles in MSA. She will take these strengths as she moves to a new faculty position in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Colorado Denver in summer 2020. The MSA recognizes Sara for her outstanding and prestigious productivity and the exceptional depth and breadth of her contributions to fungal ecology, evolution, genomics, and genetics.

MSA Fellow Awards
Dr. Michelle Momany

Dr. Michelle Momany is a Professor at The University of Georgia in Athens. Michelle has served the society through chairing six symposia at MSA meetings, as Councilor in Genetics/Molecular Biology, and as a member of the Karling Lecture committee. She has served the larger fungal community as a founding member and chair of the international Aspergillus Genomics Research Policy Committee, a member of the Fungal Genetics Policy Committee and the FungiDB Advisory Board. Michelle has been co-chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Cellular and Molecular Fungal Biology and of the Fungal Genetics Conference at Asilomar. With Jason Stajich, Michelle started WRIFO: Women Researchers in Fungi and Oomycetes, a resource for meeting organizers. A major research focus of the Momany lab is polarity and the septin cytoskeleton in the model organism Aspergillus nidulans. Her group discovered the first noncore septin, the prototype for many septins not found in budding yeast or animals. Another major focus of the Momany lab is development and antifungal resistance in the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. Dr. Momany’s academic excellence has been recognized by election as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, and as a University of Georgia Women’s Leadership Fellow. Dr. Momany developed and taught many fungal courses at the University of Georgia for undergraduate and graduate students, was advisor for 14 PhD and MS degrees, mentored seven postdocs, and served on graduate advisory committees for more than 80 other students.

Dr. Jason Stajich

Dr. Jason Stajich is a Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology and Institute for Integrative Genome Biology at the University of California-Riverside (UC-R). He has served the society as MSA Councilor for Cell biology/Physiology, and as a member of the Karling Lecture, Social media and Website committees. Research in the Stajich lab focuses broadly on comparative genomics, especially of early diverging fungal phyla (i.e., Chytridiomycota, Mucoromycota and Zoopagomycota) under his leadership as the primary investigator on the NSF-supported Zygolife Project, the NIH supported research on Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida, and the University of California Office of the President funded research on Coccidioides. As one of the world’s leading genome biologists, Jason has made significant contributions to develop genome resources and analytical methods. He is a co-developer of the BioPerl packages, and devoted significant effort in developing FungiDB, Funannotate, EnsEMBL Genomes, and co-leads the DOE-Joint Genome Institute’s 1000 Fungal Genomes Initiative. Dr. Stajich’s excellence in academics and research has been recognized by receipt of the C.J. Alexopoulos Prize in 2014, his election as a Fellow of American Academy of Microbiology, as a Kavli Fellow jointly sponsored by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and The Kavli Foundation, and as a Canadian Institute For Advanced Research Fellow in the research program group for Fungal Kingdom: Threats & Opportunities. Dr. Stajich developed and has taught eight courses at the University of California-Riverside focused on ecology and evolution, microbial pathogenesis and bioinformatics/genome analysis in addition to leading workshops for data analyses and comparative genomics of fungi.

Dr. Else Vellinga

Dr. Else Vellinga is a Research Associate at the University of California-Berkeley. Else has served the society as MSA Councilor for Taxonomy and Systematics, twice as Member of the Committee on Conservation, as Member of the International Committee, as Liaison with Amateur Mycological Societies, and as Associate Editor for Mycologia from 2009-2015. Dr. Vellinga is an internationally recognized expert in the systematics and taxonomy of macrofungi and possesses a prolific record of mycological scholarship as an author or co-author of over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and nine books, including taxonomic works that span across many groups of the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. Her recent scholarly research includes conservation and ecological themes as well as molecular evolution and systematics. Else is recognized as a world leader in fungal conservation. The North American Mycological Association recently recognized her contributions by awarding Else with the Gary Lincoff Award for Contributions to Amateur Mycology. She was instrumental in creating the course California Mushrooms, which is one of the most widely sought-after courses at the University of California-Berkeley. Lastly, Dr. Vellinga co-authored a study compiling gender biases at MSA, which catalyzed the formation of the MSA Diversity and Inclusion Committee that has shaped the society as we know it today.