Montana State University

Focus on fungi brings History Channel to MSU lab

July 1, 2008


MSU's Gary Strobel responds to a question from Melissa Fuller as John Kabasakalis monitors video during filming Monday for the Modern Marvels program on the History Channel. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.)   High-Res Available

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The crew for the History Channel's "Modern Marvels" program filmed at Montana State University this week for an hour-long program that will tell the story of how molds and fungi can both help and hurt people.

Melissa Fuller, producer of the show, said she was drawn to MSU because of the research program of plant scientist Gary Strobel, whose work finding medicinally important fungi within plants has led to cancer-fighting compounds, antibiotics and other bioactive compounds leading to dozens of patents.

"We're looking at all aspects of molds and fungi," Fuller said, "what is naturally in our bodies and what destroys our bodies, the flora and fungi that attack crops and those that save crops."

Fuller said she will also use footage from the MSU-produced video "Jewels of the Jungle," as well as film at the USDA facility in Peoria, Ill. "Jewels of the Jungle" features Strobel in jungle locations searching for "endophytes," which live between the cells of plants. The video was the effort of John Shier when he was a student in MSU's Science/Natural History Filmmaking program.

So far, with the help of native healers' traditional knowledge of which plants have healing properties, about 10 percent to 15 percent of the endophytic fungi that Strobel has collected have shown antibiotic activity. The final contract between Strobel, MSU and the native tribes reflects the importance of that help.

In addition to photographing in Strobel's lab, Fuller said she would interview others at MSU, including MSU Extension Plant Pathologist Mary Burrows in the Schutter Diagnostic Lab. Tentatively, the program is expected to broadcast in late September.

Contact: Gary Strobel (406) 994-5148 or uplgs@montana.edu