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Andrea Johnson, Minot Daily News, Published May 13 2012

Minot flood provides mold for study

MINOT, N.D. – 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.

“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, N.D., 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 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’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 Tuesday, 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.