2020 MSA Research Award Winners

2020 MSA Research Award Winners

Robert W. Lichtwardt Student Research Award
Valerie Martin - Utah State University

Valerie Martin is pursuing an MS in Biology and Ecology at Utah State University, studying the role of nectar-inhabiting microorganisms in pollination mutualisms at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. The objective of her project is to investigate the impacts of illegitimate visitation on the floral microbiome of Corydalis caseana subsp. brandegeei (Fumariaceae), consequences for floral phenotype, and effects on the nectar foraging decisions of white-shouldered bumblebees (Bombus appositus), the primary floral visitor of this plant species. This species is notoriously robbed by another bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, sparking her interest in the role of nectar microbiota in affecting floral larceny. Insights gained from this research will contribute to the rapidly growing body of knowledge on cross-kingdom interactions between plants, pollinators, and microbiota; understudied partners that may have significant consequences for plant fitness.

Martin-Baker Student Research Award

Dr. Yan Wang received his B.Sc. degree in Biological Sciences from Shanxi University, China. He attended graduate school and earned his M.Sc. degree in Biological Sciences with Dr. Merlin White at Boise State University, USA, where he became passionate about the trichomycetes, a group of microbial fungi living in the guts of aquatic arthropods. In 2016, Yan completed his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with Dr. Jean-Marc Moncalvo at University of Toronto, Canada, during which he produced the first batch of whole-genome sequences of trichomycetes fungi and completed his dissertation about the genomic evolution of Harpellales (Kickxellomycotina, Zoopagomycota). After the Ph.D., he went on to work with Dr. Jason Stajich as a postdoc fellow at the University of California, Riverside, with a broader scope on two collaborative projects—“Zygomycetes Genealogy of Life (ZyGoLife)” and “Phylogenomics of the Neocallimastigomycota”. Dr. Wang joined the Department of Biological Sciences at University of Toronto, Scarborough in 2020 as an Assistant Professor, with a cross-appointment in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Yan is very grateful for the Martin-Baker Research Award and he will use it to help unravel the hidden biology of Harpellales fungi using multi-omics data.

Yan Wang - University of Toronto Scarborough
John Rippon Graduate Research Award
Paris Hamm - University of New Mexico

My name is Paris Hamm and I am a third year PhD Candidate at the University of New Mexico. My dissertation work explores the natural biology of Coccidioides, the cause of Valley Fever, and other soilborne human and animal fungal diseases in the Southwestern United States. Relating to work during my Masters, I am collaborating on projects on white nose syndrome in bats and natural antibiotics on their fur surfaces. Outside of the lab I enjoy playing roller derby and rugby and going hiking with my fiancee, Brittany.

Clark T. Rogerson Research Award
Taryn Mueller - University of Minnesota (Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior)

Taryn Mueller is a currently a PhD student with Dr. David Moeller in the University of Minnesota’s Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior program. They became excited about plant-fungal ecology as an undergraduate working with Dr. Jesse Bellemare at Smith College, studying how interactions with novel soil fungal communities might impact the survival of an endemic rhododendron as its range shifts. Taryn’s primary research interests are now centered around the ecological genetics of plant host-associated fungal microbial communities, primarily leaf endophytes. Their dissertation uses a series of intensive field surveys and experiments to untangle the relative influence of host genotype, host phenotype, spatial distance, and environmental factors (such as precipitation and soil type) on the assembly of fungal endophyte communities. Taryn is studying this in Clarkia xantiana, a winter annual endemic to the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. They spend around two months a year in the field, happily scrambling up hills, transplanting seeds, collecting leaves, and sampling the fine local cuisine of rural grocery store hot bars. Back in Minnesota, when not working on research, Taryn spends their time gardening, and engaging in activism on issues of diversity, equity and justice in STEM and academia.

Alexander H. & Helen V. Smith Award

Keaton Tremble is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Utah in Dr. Bryn Dentinger’s Lab where he studies the process of adaptation and speciation in ectomycorrhizal fungi using population genomics. Although he started his undergraduate at Carleton College with physics in mind, he eventually fell in love with ecology and evolution while working with the Alaskan Center for Conservation Science. This interest was further honed while working in the lab of Dr. Dan Hernandez at Carleton College, where he focused on the impacts of fire on soil chemistry and decomposition in restored tallgrass prairies. After receiving his BS in biology, he found his way to Utah where he worked part time in Dr. Dentinger’s lab on a survey of Gambel Oak ectomycorrhizal associates and skied full time. Once Keaton left behind the ski-bum lifestyle and joined Dr. Dentinger’s lab as a graduate student he began research on a variety of projects including using genomics to identify ectomycorrhizal competition associated with Quaking Aspen, and identifying how local adaptation contributes to population differentiation in ectomyorrhizae.

Keaton Tremble - University of Utah
Salomon Bartnicki-Garcia Research Award
Damian Hernandez - University of Miami

Damian Hernandez is currently a PhD candidate in Dr. Michelle Afkhami’s laboratory at the University of Miami. He became interested in the molecular mechanisms of plant-microbial interactions during his Master’s thesis studying plant immune responses to microbial pathogens with Dr. Christiane Gatz at the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular Biology. After graduating with his M.Sc. in molecular Biology, Damian joined the lab of Dr. Nirupa Chaudhari at the University of Miami studying the cellular diversity of taste neurons with single-cell transcriptomics and cellular labeling. He then joined Dr. Afkhami’s lab for his PhD with the goal of understanding how plants and their microbial partners integrate environmental context at a genetic level to regulate their relationships. He is currently working on how plant investment in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis is regulated by environmental control over plant gene expression in gene families conserved in mycorrhizal plants.

Emory Simmons Research Award

Alison Harrington is a PhD candidate working with Betsy Arnold at the University of Arizona and has a BA in Biology (2014) from Hendrix College. Her interest in fungal diversity grew in undergrad, culminating in small study of campus fungal diversity, guided by Ann Willyard, that introduced her to the practical complexity of morphological and molecular identification of fungi. That interest expanded when she received a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship upon graduation, with which she explored mycological research and studied applications of fungi across four continents. Time at the Forestry and Biotechnology Institute of the University of Pretoria (South Africa, working with Riikka Linnakoski), the Lost & Found Fungi Project at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (mentored by Brian Douglas and Paul Cannon), a UNITE database workshop (Tartu, Estonia), and the Second International Workshop on Ascomycete Systematics (Amsterdam, dedicated to the memory of Emory Simmons) were particularly influential to her perspective on integrating molecular ecology and ascomycete systematics, and reiterated the challenges, gaps, and potential of ascomycete diversity that is often deeply cryptic. Alison’s current work leverages the exceptional culture collection of fungal endophytes at the University of Arizona to link molecular, morphological, and ecological data for poorly characterized ascomycete lineages.

Alison Harrington - University of Arizona