ANU: Fungus fighter named ACT Emerging Scientist – India Education | Latest Education News | World Education News


Using state-of-the-art technology, Australian National University (ANU) biologist Dr Benjamin Schwessinger helps protect the biosecurity of Australia’s unique flora and agricultural industry.

Today, Dr. Schwessinger’s work has earned him the 2022 ACT Emerging Scientist of the Year.

Describing his research, he says it’s “all about mushrooms”.

“Mushrooms are extremely important to all of our ecosystems. Over 80% of all plants form close interactions with fungi to extract nutrients from the soil. On the other hand, fungi can also be disease-causing pathogens in animals and plants,” Dr. Schwessinger said.

One such pathogen is the myrtle rust fungus which threatens Australian forest ecosystems, affecting eucalyptus, bottlebrush and paperbark trees.

Myrtle rust was first detected over a decade ago in New South Wales, but has spread rapidly on the east coast. Earlier this year it was detected in Western Australia. Now, Dr. Schwessinger is investigating the origins of this new outbreak.

“We want to know if the myrtle rust fungus found in WA is the same as on the east coast or a new introduction to Australia. This is important to mitigate the spread, which is essential for our economy and community well-being so that we can preserve our unique ecosystems,” he said.

Dr. Schwessinger’s team is undertaking similar research on the wheat stripe rust fungus which costs the Australian wheat industry more than $100 million a year. They are studying the evolution of this fungus and studying how it causes disease at the cellular level.

“Using this information, we are also developing technologies to better track the invasive fungus in Australia using genomic and molecular tools,” Dr Schwessinger said.

As wheat supplies dwindle globally with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Dr. Schwessinger’s research is particularly important.

“Any work that can limit the impact of the disease on wheat production in the short and long term is important to ensure current and future food production. A growing global population will require additional food production, and that production must be resilient to climate change and pathogen impacts,” he said.

While protecting plant health and biosecurity in Australia can be quite a task for some, Dr Schwessinger has also spent the past two and a half years supporting ACT’s COVID-19 public health response. by mapping the genomics of the virus to understand how it spreads.

“We have been tracking SARS-COV2 in the ACT since the start of 2020 and we are still there. The most intense period was about a year ago when Delta hit and we had the two month lockdown. We basically worked 24/7 to provide high quality genomic surveillance data to ACT for contact tracing,” he said.

“Now our data is used more for transmission surveillance and analysis in high-risk settings like hospitals or prisons. We are currently sequencing about 100 cases per week to monitor the variants found in the population. »

The ACT Emerging Scientist of the Year 2022 award recognizes the national and global contributions of local scientists to scientific research and innovation and aims to inspire young people to consider a career in science.

“I am elated and honored to receive this award, having found my family and scientific home in Canberra since my arrival in 2015,” said Dr Schwessinger.

Dr. Schwessinger hopes to use her award to work with and learn from Indigenous Australian groups and scientists, ideally focusing on biosafety and environmental protection.

“They are the traditional stewards of the land we live on, and we have a lot to learn,” he said.

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