Over the course of 4,100 miles and eight states in 10 days, five students and two professors collected more than 300 fungal specimens at 28 collection sites within 14 national and state parks and forests.
“It was a hectic schedule, but the students were fantastic,” said Michael Edelbrock, Ph.D., professor of biology.
A typical day included four to eight hours of driving and two hours of specimen collecting, followed by setting up camp (sometimes in the rain) and a late supper cooked over a camp stove.
The group, which was headed by Donald Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, traveled through Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, with stops at places like the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, N.D., and Yellowstone National Park.
“Most of the students hadn’t been out of Ohio,” said Walker. “It was fun to hear them talk about the landscapes that they almost couldn’t even believe existed.”
This research collection trip is part of a multidisciplinary, ongoing research project at Findlay. During the academic year, Walker takes large groups of students on similar fungal collection trips in Findlay and the surrounding area.
Both Walker and Edelbrock have ongoing projects that utilize the types of specimens that were collected. The five students involved are students who work or will be working in the laboratory; Brandy Lawrence, Charles Starkey and Jeff Miller serve as project leaders or major contributors to this research.
“I love to travel, and I enjoy my research,” said Lawrence, a fourth-year pharmacy major. “I like that I’m able to integrate both of those.”
Walker studies plant pathogenic and endophytic fungal specimens. “We collect them to study their evolutionary relationships to one another,” he said. On campus, project members isolate the specimens into pure culture and analyze them at the molecular level and under a microscope. When found, each new species is described and illustrated for further study and publication. Walker estimates that at least 10 new species to science were found on this trip.
Edelbrock studies the fungi collected for cancer cell screening. Specifically, Edelbrock and his research assistants are searching for compounds produced by fungi that can kill cancer cells.
One of the goals of this type of trip is to cross train students so that they get more exposure to the many steps involved in research. “We’re trying to involve students from field-based collection all the way up to cellular-based cancer research,” said Edelbrock.
The students are working under the umbrella of one project that is broken down into mini projects. For example, one group of students may do preliminary screens against bacteria and fungi under Walker’s guidance. Then, the samples are delivered to another group that will treat the extracted cancer cells under Edelbrock’s guidance.
Students working with several other faculty members on campus also will be working on components of the same project.
Each group has its own purpose and plan, but they work together, as well.
The summer collection trip was funded, in part, by The University of Findlay Biology Department Mini-Grants Program and the Ohio Biological Society, Tri Beta and Sigma Xi research foundations.