Presentations in the Coastal Hall:

Dr. Matt Kasson

1:00 pm: The Fascinating and Sometimes Gruesome Partnerships Between Arthropods and Fungi

Dr. Matt Kasson, West Virginia University

Fungi are all around us! Yet most remain hidden in plain sight so we can’t truly appreciate all that they do for us beyond their roles in producing our beer, bread and cheese, and breaking down our compost piles. We aren’t the only ones who regularly encounter and use fungi. Various insects and millipedes have formed beneficial partnerships with some fungi, resulting in their domestication for food over millions of years. Other fungi have made food from their insect partners, developing specialized strategies to invade their hosts and manipulate their behavior to maximize spore dispersal. We’ll take a closer look at some of these fascinating and sometimes gruesome partnerships between arthropods and fungi.

About Our Speaker

Dr. Matt Kasson is a mycologist and plant pathologist and Associate Professor in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University. Dr. Kasson specializes in fungal biocontrol, fungal diseases of trees and fungus-arthropod interactions. His work on fungus-arthropod interactions, which is currently supported by NSF and the National Geographic Society, focuses on exploring and characterizing fungal biodiversity associated with ambrosia beetles and fungus-feeding millipedes. Dr. Kasson also studies the zombie cicada fungus, Massospora, which is a highly specialized behavior-modifying fungal parasite of annual and periodical cicadas. In addition to research, Dr. Kasson teaches courses on plant pathology and forest pest management. He is very active on Twitter, where he communicates about various fungus-themed topics to some 17,000 followers.

Mushrooms growing underneath a large tree

2:00 pm: Feeding Each Other: Fungi and Trees in Mycorrhizal Symbiosis

Benjamin D. Rose, NC State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Garcia Lab

Mycorrhizal symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between certain soil fungi and plant roots. Many trees form symbiosis and share resources with fungal partners. The fungi can provide essential nutrients and water to the roots in exchange for sugars produced by the trees.  These fungi form complex underground networks in the forest, connecting trees to soil beyond the reach of the roots, and, in some cases, connecting trees to each other. This presentation will highlight the importance of mycorrhizal fungi for forest health, and the intriguing evolution of these cooperative relationships.

About Our Speaker

Ben Rose is a graduate research assistant in the Garcia Lab at NC State’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. His research is focused on mycorrhizal symbiosis between trees and fungi, and their dynamic interactions with the soil environment. This research is driven by a desire for deeper understanding of these complex relationships, toward more sustainable forest management practices worldwide.

Presentations in Windows on the World

11:30 am: Southern Appalachian Morels and False Morels

Andrew Methven, Eastern Illinois University

12:30 pm: The Evolution of Fermented Foods and Their Microbes

Christina Roche, Research Associate, NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Genomics and Microbiology Research Lab

1:30 pm: On the Origin of Charles Darwin

Paul D. Brinkman, NC Museum of Natural Sciences

Psilocybin mushrooms

2:30 pm: Adventures with Psilocybin-Producing Mushrooms: New Insights on Their Evolution and Diversity

Bryn Dentinger, Natural History Museum of Utah & School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah

Psilocybin is the major alkaloid found in most psychoactive mushrooms and holds great promise as a therapy for a range of mental illnesses. New genomic data has provided insights into the evolution of the genetic machinery that produces this powerful medicine, including patterns of horizontal gene transfer and convergence. Our lab has generated new genomes from over 100 species of psilocybin-producing mushrooms, most from type specimens of the core psilocybin-producing genus Psilocybe. Together with new data on the chemical composition of Psilocybe and the stability of metabolites in preserved specimens, I will present an overview of Psilocybe diversity, phylogeny, biogeography, chemistry, and evolution of the genes responsible for psilocybin biosynthesis.

About Our Speaker

Bryn grew up in Duluth, MN where he developed a passion for mushroom foraging as a teenager. He received his B.A. from Macalester College where he studied the neuropharmacology of a psychoactive mint (Salvia divinorum) for his honors thesis. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2007 where he studied the systematics and evolution of porcini and clavarioid mushrooms. After a postdoc in Toronto and Eugene, OR, Bryn took a position at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London, UK where he became Head of Mycology. In 2016, Bryn relocated to Utah and currently holds a joint position as Curator of Mycology at the Natural History Museum of Utah and Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.

This talk will be livestreamed on the Museum’s YouTube channel:

3D illustration of X Chromosomes3:30 pm: DNA: The Machinery of Life

Ron Monti, The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at NC State University

Our cells utilize an incredible array of molecular machines to replicate and edit DNA, synthesize proteins and perform many other complex and astounding feats. In this presentation, we’ll take a look a look at some of these machines and how they maintain life as we know it.

Our Speaker:

Ron is a science instructor for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at NC State University, a volunteer educator and exhibitor at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and an outreach speaker for the Raleigh Astronomy Club.