Samford Faculty, Students Find Role for Mushrooms in Cleaning Wastewater

Published on May 9, 2017 by Sean Flynt  
Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms (Wikipedia Commons–frankenstoen)

by Corey Johnson, Tamika Braxton and Betsy Dobbins

A group of Samford University faculty and students, along with students from other institutions, have demonstrated for the first time the ability of shiitake mushrooms to remove a common chemical pollutant found in wastewater. Their new article in the peer-reviewed journal Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology describes how the local, safe and edible shiitake mushroom secretes an enzyme that can break down contaminants into safe byproducts. This is important because current wastewater treatment methods do not adequately remove all contaminants, including estrogens from birth control pills, which can disrupt the proper function of hormones that control growth, weight gain and sexual function.

Samford computer science alumna Hanna Chappell Eldridge ’15 initiated the project under the guidance of chemistry professor Denise Gregory. Gregory and chemistry professor Corey Johnson continued the work with the help of Lori Coward, a research associate in Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy, current student Nils Wedland of Witzenhausen, Germany, and three students participating in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

The REU students, including Charlene Farmer (Judson College), Ar’Shundra Hampton (Miles College), and Alex Milliken (Wells College,) were impressed by the Samford professors’ expertise and genuine interest in their students.

“I am very thankful that my first scientific research experience was with Samford’s REU program,” Farmer said. “Everyone involved with the program is incredibly invested and supportive.”

Milliken said the REU summer program at Samford allowed him opportunities to perform experiments and use techniques he would not otherwise have had. He praised the Samford professors for “their continuous support, patience and willingness to go above and beyond to help me in any and every way possible. This experience honestly changed my life,” he said.

Hampton expressed a common theme among the REU students in the project—gratitude for Samford’s “one-of-a-kind” combination of cutting-edge education and transformative mentoring. “I received beneficial knowledge through intense research, workshops, field research, laboratory work and presentations,” Hampton said. “Through this program, I advanced in many different areas, including overall as a person.”

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ABOUT SAMFORD UNIVERSITY -- Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 3rd among regional universities in the South. Samford enrolls 5,509 students from 45 states, the District of Columbia and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference.