MSA Educator Spotlight – Marie Trest

Published by Cori VanGalder on

MSA Educator Spotlight – Marie Trest

Interviewed by Sara Gremillion, Chair of the MSA Education Committee

Interview questions:

1. What is your name and how long have you been teaching Mycology?

My name is Marie Trest, Teaching Faculty at University of Wisconsin – Madison. I teach the laboratory section for Fungi and have been involved with the course in various roles for over 15 years.

2. What is the title of your mycology-focused course and what is the level of your course? (Undergrad majors? Non-majors? Graduate?)

Fungi is an intermediate-level course cross-listed in Botany and Plant Pathology and draws undergraduate and graduate majors from those programs and from majors from biology to conservation biology to math.

3. What is your favorite activity taught in this course and what is the goal of this activity?

Students have collection assignments where they apply knowledge and skills learned throughout the course to isolate fungi from environmental samples to culture, extract DNA and match ITS sequences through BLAST, preserve samples for herbarium collections, prepare slides, and identify fungi through morphological and reproductive structures. With diversity requirements including zygomycetes, ascomycetes, basidiomycetes, and slime molds, students learn identification, microscopy, and culturing skills to prepare them for future mycological and microbiological applications. Students receive extra credit for each unique collection – a genus that has not been submitted by any other student that semester – to incentivize more diverse and challenging collections. This assignment has evolved over the years from primarily collecting and identifying macrofungi to incorporating molecular and culture techniques.

During the past two offerings of Fungi, our in-person labs were disrupted by COVID-19. I adapted this assignment to explore digital observations in Mushroom Observer. In the first year, our students dispersed at mid-semester to their home locations and began working on observing and identifying fungi wherever they were located. In the second year, students were on campus and we were able to meet in the later part of the semester at a campus natural area and create observations together in one area. These data will serve as the basis for a campus preserve mycoflora project that future semesters will build on with students learning valuable skills and providing data to the preserve. Mushroom Observer staff have generously provided project recommendations to improve student observations and data entry. As vaccination allows for in-person labs, we will be able to improve imagery with better cameras and macroscopic lenses that attach to students’ phone cameras. Students will also be able to perform microscopy and chemical tests as well as some ITS sequencing.

I love that these activities allow students to apply skills they have learned throughout the semester and focus on groups of fungi of particular interest to them within the constraints of the assignment. For example, plant pathology students could explore fungal pathogens on trees, while a conservation biology student may focus on lichenized fungi, or a botany major may search for mycorrhizal fungi. They can follow their personal or professional interests throughout the assignment. Students were enthusiastic about the opportunity to work together exploring fungi in a natural area and about their interactions with other mycologists on Mushroom Observer.

4. How is this activity assessed (exam, essay rubric, other)? In other words, how do you know if it’s effective?

This activity is assessed by submission of physical components such as a pure culture, preserved slides, and dried specimens prepared for potential herbarium submission. They are accompanied by written documentation including genus- or species-level identification and a diagram and written description of the fungus. In the case of digital collections, links to observations are submitted.

5. What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching a mycology-focused course or who is looking to update their previously taught mycology-focused course?

Even with a lower budget course, it may be possible to incorporate some molecular identification of fungi with simple DNA extraction protocols and sample submission to a sequencing facility with fungal specific ITS primers. Having students work in groups can allow them to see both successful sequences, including those with and without database matches, and samples that do not produce a readable sequence.

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