Valparaiso University and Ivy Tech Students Work Together to Solve Fungus Problem

Patrice Bouyer, Ph.D.

07/31/2023– Valparaiso, Indiana – Valparaiso University has received a $19,573 grant from the NASA-funded Indiana Space Grant Consortium to continue studying the fungus Candida albicans. The funding will allow for student researchers at Valpo — along with select Ivy Tech Community College students — to investigate environmental conditions that cause the fungus to become potentially harmful to humans. This is the sixth consecutive year that the University has received the funding. 

According to Patrice Bouyer, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Valparaiso University, this particular species of fungus is most often found inside the human body: on the skin, the gut biome, and various other places. While normally harmless, undefined factors can cause the fungus to change its morphology from round to filament, leading to infections. Treating those infections in the US alone has an estimate direct medical costs of ~$7 billion annually, and the research project will help define the factors that cause the change in morphology. 

“We’re trying to define gut environmental factors that lead to the shift in morphology of the fungus and cause health issues,” Professor Bouyer said. “We can make it change in a lab, but we don’t understand what causes it in the body.”

Neils Science Center

When brought to space (International Space Station) and exposed to microgravity Candida albicans was found to change its morphology and to become virulent, which makes this research relevant to the goals of the Indiana Space Grant Consortium. Here on earth, a clinostat, a rotating device that mimics the effect of microgravity on a small sample, will be used to gather data on the particular effects of that unique environment on the fungus. 

“When you look at the behavior of bacteria and fungi in space, or exposed to microgravity, something that is troublesome is that the lack of gravity makes them express all kinds of virulent genes that can harm people,” Professor Bouyer said. 

Partnering with institutions like Ivy Tech is part of Valparaiso University’s dedication to opening up educational opportunities for a wider range of students, and is part of the five-year plan Uplift Valpo: Our Beacon for the Journey Forward. To learn more about that exciting initiative, click here. To learn more about the Indiana Space Grant Consortium, click here

Valparaiso University and Ivy Tech Students Work Together to Solve Fungus Problem