Meet the Researcher: Benjamin Held
Benjamin Held is part of an MITPPC-funded team led by Robert Blanchette and Kathryn Bushley. Check out this profile's companion piece, "Fungal Friends and Foes," and Q+A with project member Nick Rajtar.
Can you give a quick overview of your work with MITPPC?
My main involvement is determining the fungal community associated with emerald ash borer (EAB) galleries and the importance of those fungi. What this means in practice is isolating fungi from the galleries, getting them in pure culture and sequencing the ITS region, which is considered to be the 'barcode' for fungi that helps us identify them. Then, with certain groups of interest, we sequence other genes to further characterize them.
We’re finding lots of interesting fungi! New species, canker and decay fungi and entomopathogens, or fungi that infect insects. I also support other research activities with the project.
What drew you to invasive species research?
I think most important is that invasive species have been so incredibly devastating to the ecosystem. The first invasive species that I worked with – and continue to work with – was Dutch elm disease. It has altered the urban landscape dramatically. This kind of work is also meaningful because it can have real-world impacts, but at the same time it's challenging because of all the complexities.
What is one thing you hope people can take away from your research project by the end of it?
Trees and forest resources are extremely important, and we have to do all we possibly can to reduce the damaging impacts caused by invasive species. I hope to bring an understanding that fungi are incredibly important in many ways that people might not expect.
While an insect is the main problem here, shedding light on its relationships with fungi is also important and really interesting. They can both be positive, as with the entomopathogens, or negative in the case of canker- and decay-causing fungi. And we are finding many new species of fungi that have never been described, right here in Minnesota on these ash trees.
When you are not out in the field or in the lab, what do you like to do for fun?
All kinds of outdoor activities and I’ve more recently become obsessed with sourdough baking.
About the Author
Caro Silvola is a Communications Intern with the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center (MITPPC). She is a double major in Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering and English Literature and is highlighting research-community partnerships in the summer of 2019. Outside of the office, Caroline likes biking, making art, exploring, volunteering in her community and participating in environmental movement spaces.