By: Seth Johnson

The picture shows a group of people standing in a grassy, wooded area. There are nine individuals in the group, and they appear to be engaged in conversation or an activity. Some of them are holding white canes, indicating that they might be visually impaired. The group is casually dressed, and the setting is outdoors with lush green trees and vegetation in the background. On the ground in front of the group, there are several bags containing fungi samples.On Thursday, May 16, IBCF supporter and friend Dr. Nick Oberlies led Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) high school students in an outdoor exercise on the school’s campus where the students helped collect samples for a study being done on freshwater fungi.

A research scientist in the Oberlies Research Group at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Dr. Huzefa Raja (who also joined Dr. Oberlies for the ISBVI engagement) received a one-year, $15,000 grant from the Indianapolis Zoo to study freshwater ascomycete fungi from submerged wood in aquatic habitats of Marion County, hence the reason for these ISBVI students’ fungal foray.

“While you’re on summer break, the fungi will be working,” Dr. Oberlies explained to the ISBVI students after they had collected their wood samples. “Eventually, little mushroom-like structures will grow out of the wood. Huzefa Raja is a very skilled mycologist. He will isolate the spores, which are seeds. You know how you can collect seeds and grow a new plant? You can collect spores and grow a new version of the fungus.”

After work on the mycology side of things is complete, Oberlies explained that the fungus will then undergo further testing.

“When Huzefa decides that the fungus looks interesting, we pass it off to people on the chemistry side, like me,” Dr. Oberlies said. “Then, we will test to see if it kills cancer cells, bacteria, or the parasite that causes malaria.”

As Dr. Raja explained, this Indianapolis Zoo-funded study is rather unique in that it’s focused on microorganisms.

“Zoos are supposed to be involved with conservation, but what is very interesting and rare is these are microscopic organisms, and the zoo is still interested in them,” Raja said.

In the coming months, Dr. Oberlies hopes to return to gather more samples with ISBVI students along the White River. In the meantime, he promises to keep the ISBVI students posted on anything interesting he and Dr. Raja might find from the May 16 samples.

For more information on the Oberlies Research Group’s fungal study, be sure to visit this link.





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