Bacteria, bottles and fungal breakdown

Project launched at Itasca to explore impact of bacteria on fungal decomposition reactions.
April 02, 2018

Fungi are often the stars of the decomposition world. From morels to coral fungi, these oft-recognized decomposers frequently show off through vibrant and oddly-shaped growths that morph from the ground or a dead tree. But what about the bacteria that may also break down this organic material? Enter Itasca in a Bottle, a project led by CBS undergraduate Sam Willard and Itasca Station Director Jonathan Schilling.

“Itasca in a Bottle is an ecological study designed to give scientists a better understanding of bacteria-fungi interactions in the forest,” says Willard.

Willard, a junior studying Plant and Microbial Biology, and Schilling kicked off this project last summer at Itasca, collecting and isolating more than 20 wood decomposer fungi and bacteria into glass bottle microcosms. Through a directed research project, Willard hopes to see what impact the presence of bacteria has on fungal breakdown of organic matter.

“By taking the bacterial colonies which live in symbiosis with the fungi and simulating the wood degrading environment in lab, we can begin to understand the role these microbes play in decomposition of wood in boreal forests,” says Willard.