Sci Cab Chats with Mycologist Kathie T. Hodge

kh11-portrait-1by Kitty Gifford

Join us on Tuesday, September 15 for a Science Cabaret on mold, with Dr. Kathie T. Hodge, an Associate Professor of Mycology in the Department of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University.

Kathie will be talking about the hairy cast of characters from the corners of your fridge…

How did you become a scientist?

My dad was a high school biology teacher, maybe that’s part of it. But I always loved nature as a kid, and in my childhood I roamed the cottage country north of Toronto, exploring. The smallest things were always my favorites. I just kept exploring those small things through high school and college and then grad school, until I found I had accidentally become a scientist. I am very fortunate to have a job where I can continue to learn and learn and learn. And also teach, and write, because few activities are more rewarding than to explain some abstruse idea to someone and have their face light up with wonder.

And how has your interest in science continued (what keeps you inspired)? Who encouraged you?

It was only when I got to college that I found there’s a whole community of geeky nature people like me. Beyond the admirable people and the bright, shiny students, there is so much more to learn– that is the really inspiring thing.

What are you working on now?

My grad student, Megan Daniels, is working on food molds. I’m working on various topics in the biodiversity of fungi. Like some strange insect-killing fungi. Also working with Curator Scott LaGreca to digitize museum collections at the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium.

Describe your lab.

My lab has a side that clearly belongs to a mad scientist: full of old books, artifacts, and microscopes. The other side is full of modern molecular biology equipment, incubators, and culturing facilities.

What is one surprising thing you’d like people to know about mycology?

1. We think that over 95% of fungi on earth have yet to be discovered. 95%!!

2. Yeast is a fungus. Thank you, yeast.

Bonus tidbit:

Sci Cab alum Prof. Paul McEuen wrote a novel, Spiral, in which a main character bears an startling resemblance to Kathie (at least, startling to me: and she has Kathie’s job at Cornell. Although the woman in the novel is much more torture-resistant than the real Kathie). Spiral won the “Debut Thriller of the Year” award in 2012, and is set right here in Ithaca.