Amy Y. Rossman is a mycologist, a botanist specializing in fungi. As a research leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Rossman's work includes tracking down microscopic organisms that kill plants -- including the organism that suddenly began killing dogwoods in the United States several years ago.
Jobs for mycologists exist in a surprising number of industries. They work at mushroom farms and in forestry, as well as in food and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Food manufacturers use yeast and other fungi in the manufacture of bread, beer, cheese, soy sauce and the newest meat substitute, quorn. They're also on alert to keep fungal toxins out of the food supply. In the pharmaceutical industry, it's not just penicillin that is made from mold -- so is Cyclosporin, the life-saving immunosuppressant that keeps patients from rejecting transplanted organs or bone marrow.
Mycologists also are stalking molds that may be contributing to the mushrooming "sick building syndrome," according to Joan W. Bennett, editor of the Mycological Society of America's journal, Mycologia.
"I love fungi," said Bennett. "And I don't feel guilty when I grind them up in the lab. If I do something bad, tear them up and take out their cell nuclei, I don't feel the least guilt," she said. "It's a good field for a mild-mannered biologist."