Woman of the Month- June 2014: Haley Toups [excerpt]
Haley Toups is a dedicated student at the University of Nevada, Reno pursuing a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology as well as a minor in biophysical organic chemistry, which she will graduate within the spring of 2015. Although young, she has already started making a difference in the world of mycology by introducing her community to fungi through the local greenhouse where she teaches the skills of mushroom cultivation and propagation. Periodically, she lectures to the local high school agriculture classes about fungi, biochemistry, and the career options available in science. She works as a laboratory technician at Aloha Medicinals which she recently allied with her university to analyze and identify fungi with DNA sequencing. Haley represents the next generation of mycologists, and only time will tell the advances in the study of fungi her generation will make.
When asked why she is interested in mycology, she explains that “mushrooms have been shown to help cure cancer, fight HIV, eliminate arthritis, they provided the first true antibiotic, and now a species has been found that can digest plastic. It appears fungi can save the world in so many ways, but compared to other fields, few laboratories are dedicated to their study. It baffles me after showing so much potential, how fungi can still be the most cryptic organisms on the planet. Who knows what other applications fungi may hold. ”
Haley will be participating in the Telluride Mushroom Festival by helping people identify mushroom specimens. “I am very excited to be working at the Telluride Mushroom Festival this year. Being a student myself, I feel I will be better able to relate to many of the kids who wander into the citizen scientist specimen tent. Much of teaching is passive; students are expected to sit in an uncomfortable desk and retain every word from a dreary lecture, but that is not how learning works. Learning needs to involve hands-on experience and fun. I intend to impart what knowledge I have of identifying fungi based on their physical attributes as well as stressing the importance of DNA analysis and other modern techniques. I am sure I will learn just as much from the visitors as they will learn from me because there is always something new to learn about fungi.”
Haley explains what it’s like to work at Aloha Medicinals.
“I can honestly say that working at Aloha is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Not many people get to wake up in the morning and go to work where they visit the company jellyfish and greet the managers’ dogs while having a cup of coffee next to a saber tooth tiger skull before climbing into a clean suit that could pass for a very convincing ninja outfit to work with mycelium and mushrooms all day. I love my job and what I am able to contribute to scientific knowledge.
Usually, I begin my day with media preparations, which is the base for Aloha’s entire production line. If the plates and tubes I create become contaminated, the product will become exponentially more contaminated at every step down the line, and we will have a lot of unhappy clients on our hands. For this reason, it is key to use the world’s most advanced sterile techniques and multiple quality control steps to ensure our customers are getting exactly what they paid for.
Most days, however, I organize and analyze over 10,000 culture tubes located in Nevada and Hawaii. This is my primary job at Aloha, and it is very time-consuming. Twice a year every strain in the culture bank must be transferred to create the next generation to ensure the strain will not die out for any reason such as lack of nutrition or even if the building was to burn down (explaining the two storage locations)”
Working at Aloha has given me a very unique view of industrial science that few people are ever able to attain and appreciate. Science is often glorified as a comfortable job where you sit in a laboratory doing little experiments, but the majority of science takes place in an industrial setting that is loud, messy, and often times repetitive. I feel lucky to be part of a world-class scientific team so early in my career.”
Haley hopes to travel the world collecting mushrooms for further study.”Aloha Medicinals is famous for its Cordyceps. I would be honored to accompany Dr. Holliday on an expedition to the Tibetan Alps to recover fresh samples and new strains of Cordyceps for Aloha. This experience is definitely at the top of my bucket list.”
Come say hi to Haley at the Telluride Mushroom Festival, August 16 – 19, 2014.
Pre-Conference Workshops on Friday, August 15th: Tickets Here
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