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K-State Today

March 25, 2013



Genetics doctoral student wins awards at two international conferences

By Richard Todd

Damien Downes, plant pathology-based doctoral student in the interdepartmental genetics graduate program, won a Student Poster Prize at the 10th International Aspergillus Meeting on March 11-12.

The prize was sponsored by the industrial biotechnology company Novozymes.

Downes also won a Genetics Society of America-sponsored Best Student Poster Award in the Functional and Comparative Genomics and Gene Regulation category at the 27th Fungal Genetics Conference, March 12-17. 

Both meetings were at Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, Calif.

The Fungal Genetics Conference is held every two years and is the largest meeting in the field. Almost 950 international researchers studying model fungi, free-living and industrial fungi, and plant, animal and human fungal pathogens present and discuss frontier research covering the breadth of fungal genetics. The annual Aspergillus meeting was attended by more than 100 researchers from 15 countries.

Damien presented his results describing mutants affecting a nuclear export signal that directs a key transcription regulator of nutrient metabolic genes out of the nucleus of cells in the genetic model eukaryote Aspergillus nidulans. Transporting transcription regulators out of the nucleus provides a means for cells to rapidly respond to altered nutrient availability by reprogramming their metabolism.

Aspergillus species are one of the most prevalent fungal species. Members of the Aspergillus family include post-harvest pathogens of corn that produce the carcinogenic feed contaminant aflatoxin, and opportunistic human pathogens responsible for the recent fungal meningitis outbreak across the U.S. Aspergillus is also used in the food industry to produce enzymes and metabolites.

Downes' attendance at the conferences was partially supported by a K-State Graduate Student Council Travel Award and a Graduate Student Travel Award from K-State’s Johnson Cancer Research Center.

Downes is pursuing his doctorate with faculty mentor Richard Todd, assistant professor of plant pathology.