FABI Alumnus Dr Alistair McTaggart of the University of Queensland in Australia started off the year's FABI International Seminar series with a presentation “Rust, sex, magic”. Alistair is well-known to FABIans having completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Institute. He studies the evolution and identification of fungi and his current research on biodiversity of magic mushrooms (Psilocybe) in Australia aims to determine which species are native and to conserve Australian biological heritage against habitat loss. His presentation covered this and other research work done in his group.

Rust: Myrtle rust is an invasive pathogen of Myrtaceae in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, with impacts to culturally significant and endangered trees. Alistair’s grup have tested the mechanisms and applicability of RNA interference in rust fungi to show it inhibits germination and formation of appressoria and reduces infection in planta.

Sex: Alistair showed that he boundaries of sexual reproduction are informative for species-rank delimitation in the Fusarium oxysporum species complex. New research examines the frequency of horizontal exchange among species in the complex and whether accessory and dispensable genes support taxonomic hypotheses based on the core genome

Magic: Research on psilocybin has been fast-tracked to study its benefits for human mental health. Progress in treatments of psilocybin are based on Psilocybe cyanescens, which is likely an introduced species in the northern hemisphere. His research group’s project will determine the biodiversity and endemicity of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Australia, and test a hypothesis that Australia is the centre of origin of P. cyanescens. This project is the first to establish a living collection of Psilocybe in Australia, with a vision to catalyse future research in the innovations of psilocybin.

To view the presentation, click here.