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Paris Hamm, of Macomb, won the Best Undergraduate Poster Award during the Mycological Society of America's annual meeting earlier this month in Michigan.
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WIU Student Honored at Mycological Society of America Meeting

June 18, 2014

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MACOMB, IL – A Western Illinois University senior biology and French major won the Best Undergraduate Poster Award during the Mycological Society of America's annual meeting earlier this month in Michigan.

Paris Hamm, of Macomb, is an undergraduate honors student conducting laboratory research for her honors thesis with biology Assistant Professor Andrea Porras-Alfaro. She is also part of the WIU Department of Biology's new program, Research Inspiring Student Excellence (RISE).

"The objective of the RISE program is to provide unique opportunities to undergraduate students doing research in biology," said Porras-Alfaro. "Paris is studying a group of fungi that are found in the soil that can degrade keratin. Her study focuses on desert ecosystems in Utah, and her project is a collaboration with the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL). She received funding from LANL, the WIU Honors College, the WIU College of Arts and Sciences and the biology department to attend this meeting."

The fungi Hamm is studying, which were collected from an arid grassland near Castle Valley (UT), are responsible for skin, hair and nail infections in humans known as dermatophytosis. The goals of Hamm's project were to optimize isolation methods for keratinophilic fungi using different baits and to compare the presence and diversity of these fungi in different soil microenvironments.

In addition to Hamm, five additional WIU biology students presented at the annual meeting, including undergraduate Aleshia Johannsen, a senior from Erie (IL) and graduate students Shiloh Lueschow, of Elmwood (IL), Terri Tobias, of Augusta (IL), Ryan Deaver, of Macomb, and Katrina Sandona, of Plainfield (IL), as well as WIU alumnus Lynnaun Johnson, who received a master's degree in biology in 2013 and is currently conducting his doctoral research at Northwestern University.

"All our students worked very hard during the semester and the summer to obtain high quality data to present at the meeting, and they all did an amazing job representing Western with the highest standards," Porras-Alfaro added.

This is the first year the Mycological Society of America gave an award to undergraduate students, and Hamm was the first recipient.

"As a student in the RISE program and Honors College, I started research in the mycology lab with Dr. Andrea Porras-Alfaro," said Hamm. "After completing my undergraduate degree, I plan on attending medical school to become an emergency medicine physician. I am grateful to the WIU Department of Biological Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Centennial Honors College for their support to attend this meeting."

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