Geology professor Anne Raymond found a graduate student
whose work can help in her studies on fungi.

By Michael Hines
Of the Post-Dispatch

Aug. 7, 1999

Edited by Virginia Baldwin Gilbert

Anne Raymond said the 16th International Botanical Congress gave her more than a helping hand. It gave her "insect guts."

The Texas A&M geology professor exhibited two of the 2,700 or so scientific posters that have been featured at the botanical congress, which ends today at America's Center.

Many scientific conferences offer opportunities for scientists to present work in progress in poster sessions. The poster presenters are often students, postdoctoral fellows or junior professors.

The posters at the congress ran the gamut of botanical research, from grazing effects on Finland's seashore to using nontraditional timber sources, such as tree roots, to build furniture.

One of Raymond's posters examined how wood decays in swamps and lakes.

She had discovered fungi in the wood during her studies but didn't know enough about the organisms to establish a link between the fungi and the wood.

As Raymond walked through the poster area, she happened across a graduate student whose work concentrated on tiny insects whose entrails were filled with the same types of fungus Raymond had encountered. The fungi were eating away at wood.

"I really (didn't) know enough about gut fungi to even look at them," she said. "I really was not in a position to pursue that sort of aspect."

Now she has a chance to examine how the fungi and wood relate.

Learning from other people's work was the best part about the congress, several participants said. Professionals and students alike could share their insights and show their talents.

Of course, it wasn't all by-the-books botany. With presentations ranging from trees to flowers to leaves, there was bound to be at least one fake in the grass.

Karles Karwin, a native of Finland, conducted "research" focusing on the possibility of life at the bottom of coffee cups.

He made his satirical study last year because he got bored.

"I've been with my wife for years at these types of congresses in Europe, and I had nothing to do," he said. "I made it up in five minutes or something."

Karwin's poster explained he was from "Funland" and aimed to earn a degree as a coffee scientist. His study concluded some mocha microbes may exist, and he cited evidence from such studied individuals as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully from the Fox television series, "The X-Files."

Karwin has written a more serious follow-up study focusing on the accidents related to coffee: last year in Finland, for instance, a train operator wrecked his train while reaching for his cup of Joe.

With all the usual scientific stuffiness, some fellow researchers appreciated his poster.

"I think it's funny," said Christine Small, a plant ecology graduate student from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. "A lot of people take themselves too seriously. It's nice to add a little levity now and again."

But there were plenty of serious studies on display.

Timothy Allen, for instance, grew edible mushrooms from the waste left over from making paper. He even used the grain left over from brewing beer as a kind of fertilizer for the mushrooms.

The University of Wisconsin mycology graduate student produced about 15 specimens of three varieties.

"I want to make people realize there's more to do with this stuff instead of putting it into landfills or incinerators," Allen said.

It's sharing those types of possibilities that made the congress worthwhile, Raymond said.