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Published May 09, 2012, 01:36 PM

2011 flood provides mold for Minot State research

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — A tragedy for Minot was also something of a boon for Minot State University associate professor Mikhail Bobylev and his team of student researchers. Bobylev has spent years researching anti-fungal compounds and last summer's flood produced many different mold samples for Bobylev and his students to combat.

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — A tragedy for Minot was also something of a boon for Minot State University associate professor Mikhail Bobylev and his team of student researchers. Bobylev has spent years researching anti-fungal compounds and last summer's flood produced many different mold samples for Bobylev and his students to combat.

"It was very interesting," Bobylev said, describing how different colors of mold — white, green, black, brown — grew in different places on the wall of one of the flooded houses where the team collected samples. Student researcher Braden Burckhard, a senior chemistry major from Burlington, said the mold-covered wall resembled a kaleidoscope picture.

The team members painstakingly collected the mold samples from two different locations last October.

Finding suitable buildings to test in presented something of a dilemma for the team, since many homeowners began demolition and restoration work on their flooded homes as soon as they could get back into them. Luckily, Burckhard happened to know the owner of a badly flooded house on University Avenue who gave written permission for Bobylev and his students to collect mold samples. Bobylev and student researchers wore protective gear before they set foot in the flooded homes to protect them from the mold. Bobylev said he even had to use a special camera to take pictures inside the houses, since an ordinary camera would be contaminated by mold and would soon have mold growing in every nook and cranny. The special camera was sealed to prevent mold from entering it and had to be washed off as soon as the team left the house.

Burckhard said he valued the hands-on experience, which took him out of the science lab and out into the field.

"It gave us a chance to provide research to the community," Burckhard said.

Burckhard and fellow student researchers used cotton swabs to collect samples from different mold colonies in the flooded homes and, back at the lab, isolated each sample to prevent them from being infiltrated with other samples of mold or outside contaminants. Samples of each mold type collected were sent to Home Mold Laboratory in Walled Lake, Minn. The lab identified each type of mold and what illnesses they might produce. For instance, one type of mold the group found was a white mold identified as "acremonium alabamense." The lab indicated that this genus of fungi can produce a number of serious diseases if it grows in a human being, including osteomyelitis, peritonitis, meningitis and endocarditis. It is also a serious allergen, aggravating hay fever and asthma.

Bobylev said the white mold sample and other mold types can be dangerous to humans and animals, though they are most dangerous to people who have compromised immune systems, such as cancer and AIDS patients.

Bobylev said he found one sample in Burckhard's neighbor's house that interested him, since it is a type of mold that might be most commonly found in a warmer environment like Yellowstone Park. The human body provides a perfect incubator for this type of fungus, which thrives in a warm environment, Bobylev said.

Bobylev's students are testing anti-fungals that can eradicate the molds that were collected from the two Minot locations. Bobylev said some of the research is promising. The research might lead to new drugs that can be used to help treat humans or plants with fungal infections.

Bobylev's research has been funded this academic year with a grant from the Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service. The grant runs out on May 15, but Bobylev hopes he can find another grant that will let him carry on the research. Bobylev wants to maintain the collection of mold samples that his students gathered after the flood for future researchers. He said he doesn't think much similar research was done following other catastrophic floods, such as the New Orleans flooding in 2005 or the 1997 Red River flood, so further research is of real value for the Minot community. It gives scientists a better idea of what type of fungi are present in the area after the flood.

Bobylev has worked with more than 50 undergraduate student researchers in the decade he has been at Minot State University. Students who work with him spend hours each week doing research in the lab and also present their work at state, regional and sometimes national conferences. Many have gone on to graduate programs or medical or pharmaceutical schools, which Bobylev finds rewarding. Burckhard, who is headed to the University of North Dakota medical school at Grand Forks this fall, said students from other universities don't often get this kind of opportunity to do undergraduate research or work so closely with a professor. Hands-on experience is a plus when applying for post-graduate study, he said.

Student researchers working with Bobylev on the project are Burckhard; Mikayla Fick, from Minot, accepted to North Dakota State University of Pharmacy; Kowan O'Keefe, of Blind Bay, British Columbia; Mitchell Falkenberg, of Calgary, Alberta; Luke Uran, from New Town; and Joel Collins, Sam Olson and Chad Dion, all from Minot. Bobylev also works closely with his wife, Lucy.

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