Alexopoulos Prize Honors Dr. Betsy Arnold for Outstanding Early Career in Mycology

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Mycological Society of America has honored Dr. A. Elizabeth Arnold (Betsy) with its 2012 Alexopoulos Prize, a peer-nominated, national award that recognizes one outstanding early-career mycologist each year. Arnold is an associate professor in the School of Plant Sciences and curator of the Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. She is also jointly appointed in the College of Science Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The award was presented by the Mycological Society of America at Yale University on July 18. Nominees for the Alexopoulos Prize are judged primarily on the quality, originality and quantity of their published work, and must be within 10 years of earning their doctoral degree. 

This award follows Arnold's 2011 recognition as the inaugural recipient of the Arthur Henry Reginald Buller Medal, a peer-nominated, international award from the International Mycological Association that recognizes one outstanding young mycologist each year in North America (Canada and the United States). 

Together with her students, Arnold studies fungal ecology and evolution with a particular emphasis on fungal endophytes—tiny fungi that live within plant leaves and stems without causing disease. Their diversity, potential benefits for plants, and applications in biotechnology, medicine and agriculture have only recently been discovered and explored. ar

Fungal endophytes are found in trees, grasses, crop plants and shrubs all the way from arctic tundra to tropical rainforests. A field biologist at heart, Arnold and her team have collected and studied these these mysterious endophytic fungi by the thousands in habitats across the world.

After earning her B.S. in biology with honors at Duke University in 1995, Arnold moved to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama where she assisted in a long-term study of plant-herbivore and plant-pathogen interactions in lowland tropical rainforest. She completed her doctorate at the UA in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2002, focusing on the diversity and ecological roles of tropical endophytes.

Arnold returned to Duke as a postdoctoral fellow through the National Science Foundation's Microbial Biology program in 2003, expanding her scope to include more varied types of endophytes in different ecosystems and new tools in molecular ecology.

In 2005 Arnold joined the faculty in the School of Plant Sciences and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, earning tenure in 2010. She currently mentors four graduate students (Mariana del Olmo Ruiz, Mary Jane Epps, Ellen Martinson, and Dustin Sandberg) and has graduated two Ph.D. students thus far (Michele Hoffman and Jana U'Ren).

She has published more than 50 papers, served on more than 25 graduate student committees, mentored five postdocs and supervised more than 50 undergraduate researchers at the UA and on the Navajo Nation. An award-winning teacher, Arnold teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in mycology, plant biology, and microbial diversity. As curator of the Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium, she oversees a collection numbering more than 40,000 specimens.

Arnold has garnered more than $2.6 million in grant funds and is recognized internationally for her research, through which she involves citizen scientists, high school students, local teachers, and international collaborators.

She is an active member of the Mycological Society of America, a scientific society with members in more than 40 countries, dedicated to advancing the science of mycology—the study of fungi of all kinds including mushrooms, molds, truffles, yeasts, lichens, plant pathogens, and medically important fungi. The International Mycological Association represents the interests of more than 30,000 mycologists worldwide.