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Impact on Mycorrhizal Fungi and their role in Mediating Metal Uptake by Trees in the Appalachian Mountains
Mentor: Dr. Andrea Ferro
Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering

Forests in the Appalachian Mountains are downwind of population centers in the Midwest and thus are exposed to relatively high concentrations of metal pollutants and other anthropogenic contaminants from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources. In previous research we found elevated levels of phytochelatins, proteins that help protect against metal stress, produced in the foliage of trees exposed to metals in the Appalachian Mountains. In the forest soils mycorrhizal fungi are mutualistic root symbionts; some species of mycorrhizal fungi may be particularly effective at protecting their host plant from exposure to toxic levels of metals, but this has not been well studied. Our project will examine current metal deposition in an east to west transect of increasing metals concentrations across the Appalachian Mountains, and investigate the impact on mycorrhizal fungi and their role in mediating metal uptake by trees. The student REU fellow will spend the summer collecting root and foliage samples from field sites and examining the mycorrhizal fungi to identify species associated with particular metals. The student will also help to analyze phytochelatins and phytochelatin synthase expression in the foliar and root samples to determine how forests are responding to current metal deposition.