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Dr. Barbara Illman
USDA Forest Service
Forest Products Laboratory
University of Wisconsin

Synchrotron Radiation Used to Unravel the Mysteries of Fungi

Tree diseases, ecosystem disturbance, houses crumbling, biomass degradation, carbon cycling and bioremediation of environmental toxins have a lot more in common than first meets the eye.  They are phenomena that can be caused by higher fungi, the Ascomycetes and Basidomycetes.

An expert on fungal mechanisms of wood decay, Dr. Barbara Illman, from the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin, will deliver three lectures during the week of April 25, in a new series sponsored by the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) on Frontier Applications in Synchrotron Radiation.

Illman is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Project Leader at the Forest Products Laboratory on campus, known worldwide for research on fungal mechanisms of wood decay.  CHESS is the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source that supports a national x-ray user program using the Wilson Synchrotron facility.

The first of Illman's lectures is "Turning the Synchrotron Light on Fungal Behavior:  Finding Clues to Biochemical Oxidation in Disease and Degradation," Monday, April 25 at 4:00 p.m. with light refreshments at 3:30 p.m., in 404 (Whetzel Seminar Room) Plant Sciences Building.  She will describe how synchrotron radiation-based methods are being used to obtain needed information about the basic mechanisms by which filamentous fungi degrade lignocellulose, the major component of trees, the structural component of wooden houses and the woody biomass on the forest floor.

The second lecture scheduled for Tuesday, April 26, "Putting Fungi to Work:  Bioremediation of Environmental Toxins," will be at 4:30 p.m. in 233 Plant Sciences Building with refreshments served at 4:00 p.m.  The lecture,  will cover the application of synchrotron radiation methods to nanoscale chemical analysis of fungal remediation of environmental toxins.

The final lecture in the series "Disturbance of Alaskan Boreal Forests by Fungi and Insects:  From the Landscape to the Nanoscale Level," scheduled for Thursday, April 28 at 4:30 p.m. in G10 Biotechnology building with refreshments served at 4:00 p.m.  The lecture will explore a reductionist approach to understanding biological and chemical processes underlying ecological system.  The lecture will describe novel applications of synchrotron radiation techniques to complex biological and chemical interactions at the molecular level.

Illman served as Chair of the Users Executive Committee for the diverse 2,800 member User community at the National Synchrotron Light Source, Brookhaven National Lab.  She is a charter member of the USDA Multi-State Project NC-1022, a community of scientists dedicated to applying synchrotron spectromicroscopy to the study of particulate matter.  Illman currently serves as a scientific advisor to two international organizations dealing with forest health and quarantine issues, the North American Forestry Commission Insects and Disease Panel and the North American Plant Protection Organization.  She is a member of the International Plant Protection Convention.  She is a Research Project Leader at the USDA Forest Service's national Forest Products Laboratory and is a member of several advisory and research panels.

The Frontier Applications in Synchrotron Radiation Lecture Series, established in 2004 by the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source and Provost Biddy Martin, highlights pioneering scientists who are utilizing synchrotron radiation in new directions, especially in the biological and environmental areas.