Whenever he is not thinking about fungi, Hai Nguyen is a swimming pool collector and a computer geek. He is currently a 4th year PhD student at the University of Ottawa with Keith A. Seifert, and will defend his thesis at the beginning of May.
His PhD research focuses on the Wallemiomycetes (Basidiomycota). More specifically, Hai is working to resolve the Wallemia sebi species complex. W. sebi is a ubiquitous extremophile found in indoor environments that can potentially cause food spoilage and allergy symptoms.
Another component of Hai’s thesis examined heat resistant and xerotolerant soil fungi in the genera Basidioascus and Geminibasidium. He taxonomically characterized a new lineage of these fungi, which are related to Wallemia. In addition, Hai sequenced, assembled, annotated and analyzed the genome of Basidioascus undulatus. Hai’s work has been published in Mycological Progress and Mycologia.
Last year, Hai was awarded the O. K. Miller, Jr. Mentor Travel Award to attend the 2014 MSA Annual Meeting at Michigan State University. The Mentor Travel Award helped pay for his travel costs to present his work with B. undulatus. The talk was titled “Genome analysis and confocal microscopy of the heat resistant and xerotolerant basidiomycete Basidioascus undulatus reveal insight into its basic biology.”
After he defends his PhD thesis, he plans on continuing in Keith Seifert’s lab as a postdoc for an additional year. During that time, he will wrap up a few unpublished manuscripts and get his feet wet in a different area of mycology: studying ochratoxin-producing species of Penicillium. He will soon be looking for other opportunities that will allow him to expand his research on the fascinating lineages of heat resistant fungi in soil or to focus his research on other fungi in the Basidiomycota.
Q: How did you become a mycologist?
A: I think it was a fluke. I had always wanted to work in arts, communications, or media, and becoming a mycologist was never something I initially intended to do. When I graduated high school, my parents insisted that I earn my undergraduate degree in biology, so I could be a dentist or doctor. I did as they asked, but my heart was just not in it…until I arrived in Keith Seifert’s lab as an undergraduate student. He told me to work on a fungus called Leohumicola. For the first time in a long time, I actually felt genuinely interested in what I was learning. Today, I don’t actually see myself doing anything other than mycology. I also feel so lucky that MSA has supported me in pursuing my passion for mycology through these awards.
Q: What is your favorite edible mushroom, and what do you like about it?
A: I love shiitake mushrooms. I’m not really sure what I like about it other than it tastes really good. I once made an omelette with shiitake mushrooms for a friend and he thought it was some kind of weird chicken.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I used to play computer games a lot. World of Warcraft was a big part of my life for some years. These days I don’t have that kind of time anymore so I mostly spend my time at the gym or at the swimming pool.
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: Several years ago, I had a big white cat. We used to take afternoon naps together. It was the best!