The AMS Research Training Grant
AMS aims to promote the understanding of fungi, and a key component of this aim is to ensure that Australasian mycologists have access to training in new skills. This access may come via the opportunity to travel overseas and gain experience directly from experts, or indirectly by being taught new skills by individuals fortunate enough to have had that opportunity.
Applications for the AMS Training Fund are still being welcomed from all current financial members of the AMS, especially student and ECR (PhD + 10 years) members.
Applicants must be associated with an Australasian research organisation. The maximum grant awarded in 2020 will be $3,000.
There is no deadline for applications – instead, applications will be assessed as they are received, and outcomes communicated after the next AMS Council meeting (quarterly). All applications will be judged on (i) the potential for the individual to benefit, (ii) the lack of opportunity to obtain training in Australasia and (iii) the commitment to pass skills on to the Australasian mycological community. The grant may be used to cover costs of training registration (if applicable) and travel expenses, however it may not be used to cover research costs or bench fees. Successful applicants will be required to share the knowledge that they gained by conducting a workshop at the AMS conference immediately following their award.
The application must briefly indicate how the project will contribute to the aims of the AMS and include a description of the training activities, expected outcomes and qualifications of the researcher (maximum two pages). The application must also include a budget for the grant, including justification for each item of expenditure (maximum one page). The text must be in 12-point font of a common style (e.g., Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial). Applications longer than three pages will not be accepted.
Evidence that the individual is eligible to take on the training is also required. This evidence includes a letter of support from a supervisor, a letter from the host confirming the training details and/or a copy of the registration confirmation, and should be provided at the time of application wherever possible. This evidence will not count towards the three-page limit.
Please forward all applications to the AMS Secretary, Laszlo Irinyi,
Recipients of the AMS Research Grant
University of Melbourne, Victoria
Investigation of toxicity within southern Australian members of the mushroom genus Agaricus L. in a phylogenetic context.
Amelia-Grace is a student at the University of Melbourne. Her masters project unites the University of Melbourne, the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, and Deakin University, through supervision by Drs Joanne Birch, Teresa Lebel and Damien Callahan. Amelia-Grace’s project is the first to investigate the morphological diversity, evolutionary relationships, and chemical toxicity variation of yellow-staining Agaricus species in Australia.
One species of yellow-staining mushroom, Agaricus xanthodermus- which contains the poisonous chemical phenol- is responsible for 89% of the poisonings by deliberate ingestion reported to the Victorian Poisons Information Centre. However, anecdotal evidence dating back to the original description of the species by Genevier indicates variation in the toxicity of this species: sometimes consumption of this species results in gastrointestinal irritation and sometimes it doesn’t. The precise cause for the variation in toxicity is unknown but may be related to factors such as developmental stage, part of the mushroom consumed, habitat, or genetic variation in the form of cryptic species. To add to the mushrooming mystery, it has never been determined whether the Australian species currently known as A. xanthodermus is the same as the original, Northern Hemisphere species. In fact, the extensive morphological and habitat diversity of Australian individuals indicate the species name Agaricus xanthodermus may be misapplied to a number of distinct, yellow-staining species.
Amelia-Grace is using a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and high throughput amplicon sequencing. She is developing a phylogeny of Agaricus in southern Australia and is identifying factors to predict which yellow-staining Agaricus are likely to contain a high concentration of poisonous phenol and are therefore more likely to result in poisoning symptoms if consumed.
Using her AMS Research Grant, Amelia-Grace has made collections for both chemical and genetic analysis from under-collected locations across Victoria, including samples from areas of native vegetation. She’s also been able to expand sampling of herbarium specimens and increase the number of regions to be used for phylogenetic reconstruction. This has allowed Amelia-Grace to increase the taxonomic coverage of her project and capture as much of the toxicity variation present across Victoria as possible.
Cecilia Li, Fungal Pathogenesis Group, Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Westmead Institute for Medical Research
Investigating the role of the inositol polyphosphate kinase signalling pathway in fungal metabolism
Cecilia Li is a student at the University of Sydney, based at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research. She is currently in the final year of her PhD. She is supervised by Julie Djordjevic, Sophie Lev, and Tania Sorrell. Her project aims to investigate molecular mechanisms of Cryptococcus neoformans pathogenesis. C. neoformans initially infects the lungs and disseminates to the central nervous system (CNS), causing fatal meningoencephalitis. Up to one million cases of cryptococcal meningitis and around 600,000 deaths have been reported annually in AIDS patients alone. For C. neoformans to survive and replicate in the lungs, and disseminate to the CNS, it must adapt its metabolism to suit nutrient availability in the lung, an environment depleted of glucose.
Cecilia’s PhD studies have led to the identification and characterisation of a novel signalling pathway in C. neoformans. This pathway consists of a series of sequentially acting inositol polyphosphate kinases (IPKs: Arg1, Ipk1 and Kcs1) that convert IP3 to PP-IP5 (IP7). Cecilia’s work has established that mice infected with the IPK gene deletion mutants (which all lack PP-IP5) have lower infection burdens in the lung compared to wild type. This is due to their inability to metabolise non-glucose carbon sources. Thus, these IPK mutants fail to disseminate to the CNS. Other preliminary data suggest that mitochondrial function is compromised in the IPK mutant set, and that glycolysis is up-regulated.
Using her AMS research grant award, Cecilia has explored the role of the IPK pathway in cellular metabolism and energy production in real-time by using the Seahorse XFe24 Extracellular Flux Analyzer. Given that the instrument has never been used with non-adherent yeast cells before, Cecilia has had to optimise the attachment of cryptococcal cells, and also optimise the concentration of inhibitors needed to test metabolic flux. She is still working on optimising the concentration of one inhibitor by using an alternative substance.
Cecilia will then be in a position to identify differences in the metabolic function of IPK strains compared with the virulent wild-type strain, which could in turn provide answers to why the mutants are less virulent. This information could offer insight into how the inositol polyphosphate kinase signalling pathway regulates cellular metabolism and fungal virulence.
Sarah Sapsford, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia
The biotic and abiotic factors predisposing marri (Corymbia calophylla) to canker disease (Quambalaria coyrecup) in the southwest of Western Australia
Sarah is currently completing her PhD in forest pathology at Murdoch University. Her project focuses on the factors that are causing the decline of marri (Corymbia calophylla) trees in Western Australia (WA). The decline of this species has devastating effects on wildlife habitats as well as the economy: marri are an important food source and nesting location for the endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris) and are also one of the major honey plants in southwest WA which beekeepers are heavily dependent on. A canker caused by the fungus Quambalaria coyrecup, believed to be endemic to WA, has devastated many marri stands in the southwest of WA. It has been observed that incidences of Q. coyrecup are much greater in areas affected by anthropogenic activities such as parks, small remnants, peri-urban areas, cleared land used for farming and/or grazing and roadsides. It is possible that a combination of factors are predisposing marri to canker disease. For example, remnant stands of marri trees on road edges that border cleared land (usually a farm) have extremely high incidences of canker. However, across the road (on the opposite road edge) where there is a forest block, the incidence of canker dramatically decreases and reaches 0% incidence on trees that are at least 20 m away from the road edge. Predisposing factors leading to the decline of marri may include the use of pesticides and herbicides on these road edges (either by local council spraying road edges or run-off from adjacent farmland), soil pathogens such as Phytophthora spp., and changes in climate. These factors can have detrimental effects on concentrations of nutrients in the soil, soil composition, soil pH and, most importantly, microbial communities in the soil.
Susan Nuske, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland.
Mammal dispersal of ectomycorrhizal fungal spores
Susan Nuske is currently completing her PhD in Ecology at James Cook University, Cairns. Her project investigates the dispersal of ectomycorrhizal fungi by Australian mammals. Ectomycorrhizal fungi are an important group of soil fungi that associate with plant roots. In this association the fungi mine hard-to-access nutrients from the soil and transport them to the plant. In exchange the plants give sugars to the fungi. This association benefits both plants and fungi and the ecology of these two organisms are tightly linked.
Susan’s main interest lies in the third players in this interaction; the Australian mammals that consume and disperse the spores of ectomycorrhizal fungi. While wind-dispersed mushrooms are the best known ectomycorrhizal fungi, Australia is also home to a large diversity of below-ground fruiting fungi (truffle-like species), most of which are ectomycorrhizal. These truffle-like species rely on animals to dig-up, consume and disperse their spores. A literature review Susan has performed found that at least 53 Australian mammal species consume fungi. Although we can infer that mammals are important for maintaining ectomycorrhizal diversity, we only have a limited understanding of the extent of this interaction because knowledge of ectomycorrhizal fungal communities within Australia is very limited. By examining the whole ectomycorrhizal community and comparing this to the fungal species consumed by mammals, Susan is investigating whether mammals disperse a significant proportion of the ectomycorrhizal fungal community.
The most notable of these fungal-dispersers are bettongs and potoroos that specialise in consuming truffle-like fungi. Unfortunately, the distribution of these species has reduced significantly since European arrival, including the endangered Northern Bettong. The loss of Australia’s mammal abundance and diversity may have consequences for their functional roles as spore dispersers and overall ecosystem functioning. However, the ubiquity of mammal mycophagy across remaining mammal populations is not well known. Additionally, we do not have a clear understanding of the importance of specialist fungal-dispersers (bettongs and potoroos) over the dispersal roles of the many generalist fungal consumers (mammals like bush rats and swamp wallabies that consume fungi but do not rely on it in their diet). Susan will address these knowledge gaps by examining the fungal diet of the Northern Bettong and comparing this to other mammals within the same range. This will allow us to better understand whether modern mammal populations are important for maintaining functioning ectomycorrhizal forests.
Before delving into the mycology world, Susan’s biological interest was sparked by working with animals on a high school hobby farm. She started out majoring in Zoology for her Bachelor of Science (University of Queensland), but quickly became fascinated with the role animals play in interacting with and shaping their environment. Hence, Ecology became her main focus. Susan also could see the potential using genetic techniques for answering ecological questions and gained genetic skills in a 3rd year intensive course and research project working on parentage of Antechinus. In 2010 she completed an Honours year at UQ working on a non-invasive genetic technique for estimating population size for the endangered Bridled Nailtail Wallaby. After working as a research assistant, travelling and volunteering, Susan decided to start a PhD.