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The 8th of October 2018. The five days course Food and Indoor mycology (package) starts on a sunny day. Fifty fungal and yeast species relevant for food and indoor environments stand prepared.
Name tabs are printed. Everything is ready.

Proud

The first surprise is for three women from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. Their names are spelled correctly! With names like Guðríður, Gyða, Guðný and surnames like Þorsteinsdóttir that is, at least for people outside Iceland, something to be proud of!
Iceland has some issues with moisture. When the rain comes in with a lot of wind at the side of a building, that can cause some serious fungal problems, especially with the new building materials lately used in construction.This is one of the reasons the three, a mycologist, a biologist and a bio-technologist want to increase their knowledge about indoor fungi, and in the meantime ‘have some fun in Utrecht’. The fun part has to come mainly from the course though. The days are filled with lectures and a ‘hands-on’ programme for which the 50 examples are being used.

Knowledge

Among the 23 participants are four people of one company, a farmaceutical one, and with over 40.000 employees not a small one. Novo and Nordisk long ago, were among the first companies to produce insulin. Since the companies merged as Novo Nordisk, diabetes care, obesity care, haemophilia care, growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy became their main focus.
‘We are manufacturing sterile products that need to stay sterile’, so every possible threat is being investigated. Fungi are not a large threat for this industry, but the ability of fungi to produce toxins needs to be closely examined and monitored. Thus their participation in this course. ‘It’s very good, these guys are so skilled, so competent and engaged, you get into it yourself. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge here’, is the comment of Peter Annel, one of the hard-working participants.

Keep up

Another one of these hard working people is Stephanie So, from the National Research Council Canada. She is, like the Icelandic participants, mainly interested in mould on building materials and the effects of it on indoor air quality. In the remote areas in the north of Canada, where people often live in small dwellings and have to survive severe weather, the mould problem is not so much increasing but awareness is growing. As a chemistry-biologist Stephanie So was best suited in her company to attend.
Some people attend the course on a regular base, ‘to keep up’, like Emilia Rico, founder and CEO of BCN labs based in Rockford, USA and specialized in food and beverage microbiology and mycology (yeast and mould spoilage).
Other people are new to the course like Dutch Mattijs Kaemingk, master student Science Busisness Management, who, although a biologist, doesn’t have that much of foreknowledge. ‘I learn a lot, but five days is not enough to tell which species of mould I encounter in the shower of my hotel-room’.  For him the course is a very fascinating start of an internship at the Westerdijk Institute.

Main suspects

The five-day course actually consists of two courses on connected topics: “Food and Indoor Mycology” (3 days) and “DNA based identification of fungi” (2 days). Course leader Jos Houbraken and his team have been busy for weeks in preparing them. ‘We begin in July and August to check whether the strains we want to use are still alive and kicking, and we are able to grow them. The fifty fungal and yeast species need to be exactly the same age during the course in order for course participants to be able to identify them. They have to take growth speed into account also in the identification process. ‘Our 3 day course is about morphology, phenotype identification of lots of indoor fungi. Let’s say the main suspects in food and indoor mycology. We give a lot of background information about how they look, where and how they grow and why they are there. The second two-day course is mainly about DNA identification techniques . ‘We try to teach people how to identify fungi based on DNA loci (dedicated parts of DNA)  and we teach them always to go back to the morphology again because there are a lot of ways in which DNA identification can go wrong.’ It is not the holy grail of identification so to speak.

Jos Houbraken is outspoken about the importance of correct identification: ‘It is  extremely important, especially in the industry, since some species of fungi produce mycotoxins, and correct identification tells you something about the origin of the fungi. They can be airborne or they come with raw materials. The mere fact of being heatresistant or not can tell you something about where to look for the source of a contamination. Some fungi are associated with apples, or with other ingredients. You can tell if you identify correctly.’

This year’s course was fully booked and a success. Next, the group is going to focus  on their daily work and on producing the revised course book. Hopefully ready early next year.