Have you ever rolled over a wooden log only to see it flourishing with fungi? Have you ever wondered what breaks down the plant matter remaining after a tree has died and fallen? Gerry Presley has, and as a result, he is focusing his research on how fungi rot wood. Presley is paying close attention to the enzymes that are produced in wood to break down plant material, as well as how these enzymes change over time. For the past year, he’s has been in Cape Town, South Africa working on his dissertation at the University of Western Cape.
“The long view of this work is that we may discover new enzymes that might be useful in breaking apart plant material for human uses like the production of ethanol from agricultural wastes,” he says.
His interest in fungi originated from his undergraduate work at Eastern Illinois University. “I realized just how universal fungi are and how integral they are to the functioning of the natural world. Nothing lives without them, but the biochemical transformations performed by fungi are the essential, unseen and often unappreciated mechanics of a functioning ecosystem,” Presley says.