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Dr. Kyria Boundy-Mills wins prestigious J. Roger Porter Award

Posted on: October 26, 2016

Dr. Kyria Boundy-Mills, curator of the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection in the UC Davis department of Food Science and Technology, has been awarded the prestigious J. Roger Porter Award by the American Society for Microbiology. This award "recognizes outstanding efforts by a scientist who has demonstrated the importance of microbial biodiversity through sustained curatorial or stewardship activities for a major resource used by the scientific community". Boundy-Mills will give an address at the next ASM General Meeting in New Orleans in June 2017. The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 47,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences. Attendance at the annual General Meeting is generally over 10,000 people.

Since 2001, Boundy-Mills has been the curator of the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, the fourth largest collection of its kind in the world, with over 7,000 strains belonging to over 1,000 species of yeast. The collection is the living legacy of eminent UC Davis yeast ecologist Herman Phaff (1913-2001), who received the J. Roger Porter Award in 1984. This large, irreplaceable collection was in a deteriorating state when Phaff passed away in 2001. Over the last 15 years, Boundy-Mills has revitalized and modernized the collection. These efforts ensure that the collection will survive for future generations, and that use of the collection will continue to expand. She recently received an award from NSF to transfer and absorb two yeast collections accumulated by retiring professors at other universities: W. T. Starmer at Syracuse University (a postdoc with Phaff at UC Davis in the 1970s), and P. Ganter at Tennessee State University. With a combined total of approximately 4,000 strains, this project will expand the size of the collection by up to 50%. Rescuing these "heirloom" yeasts is crucial because geographically diverse microbe collections are extremely difficult to build today, due to recent international agreements (the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol), and habitat loss.

The collection website has an online catalog that researchers can peruse to locate strains suitable for their research. Boundy-Mills also assists researchers with selecting just the right strain for their particular use. The collection is utilized globally by academic, government agency and industrial researchers in novel and creative ways, such as studies of yeast ecology (especially insect or plant associations), taxonomy, transcription regulation, comparative genomics, biofuels, fermented foods and beverages, food and feed ingredients, hosts for heterologous protein expression, and plant, human and animal pathogenesis.

Boundy-Mills has used the collection to spark multiple lines of innovative research in her own research program, in collaboration with many partners at UC Davis and beyond. Tapping this enormous and diverse collection, Boundy-Mills can approach scientific questions using methods available to very few other labs -- purchasing hundreds of authenticated yeast strains is simply too costly for a typical project. Recent projects include studies of insect-yeast ecology with Frank Zalom (Entomology), discovery of ionic liquid-tolerant yeasts with Chris Simmons (Food Science), identification of a yeast causing olive spoilage and development of olive starter cultures with Maria Marco (Food Science) and Dan Flynn (Olive Center), conversion of plant matter to protein for pet food with Dave Block (Viticulture and Enology) and Tina Jeoh (Biological and Agricultural Engineering), production of oil by high oil yeast species with Bruce German (Food Science), and discovery of yeasts that secrete a novel class of glycolipids with surfactant activity with Oliver Fiehn and Tom Cajka (West Coast Metabolomics Center) and Stephanie Dungan (Food Science).

She has trained over 100 undergraduate students in independent research projects, many of whom have gone on to graduate and professional schools or jobs in the food and biotechnology industries. For her many accomplishments, she was awarded the UC Davis Academic Federation Award for Excellence in Research in 2015, the highest campus research award for her academic title. These accolades would not be possible without exceptional collaborators, and the expert work of lab personnel, especially former postdoc Irnayuli Sitepu and current grad student Tonio Garay.