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Porras-Alfaro Presented National Award for Mycology Work
Illinois Ag Connection - 08/10/2018

Western Illinois University Associate Biological Sciences Professor Andrea Porras-Alfaro was recently awarded the Constantine J. Alexopoulos Prize from the Mycological Society of America (MSA), given annually to an outstanding mycologist early in their career.

Porras-Alfaro accepted the national award during the International Mycological Congress in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The prize is given annually and nominees are evaluated based on the quality, originality and quantity of their published work. Mycology is the scientific study of fungi.

"I am very grateful to WIU," said Porras-Alfaro. "This award was, in part, a product of all the support I have received to maintain an active research program focused on the training of undergraduate and graduate students."

Porras-Alfaro has taught mycology and medical mycology at WIU for the past nine years, and has supervised the research projects of more than 35 graduate and undergraduate students. She is a fungal ecologist with expertise on arid and semiarid ecosystems, and her lab is interested in novel fungi with potential to ameliorate the effects of climate change and facilitate plant adaptation to extreme weather including extended periods of drought and high temperatures.

Projects in Porras-Alfaro's lab included the study of fungi in grasses, tropical orchids and soybeans, as well as White Nose Syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in the United States and Canada. Research in her lab has resulted in the discovery of 15 new species of bacteria that have antifungal activity against White Nose Syndrome.

During her career, Porras-Alfaro has published more than 30 articles, including three book chapters. She has also reviewed scientific articles and proposals for numerous journals and funding agencies. Through the MSA, Porras-Alfaro has served on numerous committees.

At WIU, she has been awarded the Provost and College of Arts and Sciences Awards for Academic Excellence in Scholarly and Research Activities, the WIU President's Excellence in Diversity Education Award and the Outstanding Faculty Award for Undergraduate Research. She also mentors a large number of minority students, and has worked on promoting diversity initiatives and research opportunities for students through National Science Foundation-funded programming.

When Porras-Alfaro attended to the conference, four Western students traveled with her and presented their research, including:

- Terri Tobias, a doctoral student in Environmental Studies, from Augusta, Ill., received a travel award from the Mycological Society of America.

- Maria Jose Romero, a research assistant in Biological Sciences, who was selected as invited speaker in an organized symposium.

- Kayla Burnett, a senior biology major, who received a recognition for her undergraduate poster presentation.

- Shruti Ojha, a graduate student in biology from India.

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