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Teresa, 33

Teresa names nearly a third of all the mushrooms she finds. She loves the smell, texture and taste of fungi, especially Australian native truffles, and hopes one day to open a 'Fungal Institute'. Find out more:

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Fact file

Job description: Finds, describes, illustrates, names and classifies new fungi; builds and maintains the collection of fungi at the herbarium; files fungi in online database; lectures to universities, schools and the public.

Subjects studied: Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English Literature, English and Technical Drawing.

Further training: Teresa has an Honours Science Degree in Botany and Zoology from the University of Western Australia (5 years); and a PhD in Botany and Plant Pathology at the Oregon State University, USA (5 years).

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Profile

Fungi's important role in ecosystems and human experience is one reason why Teresa finds them endlessly fascinating. Another reason is their unconventionality - there's still debate about whether some fungi are plants or animals.

"They're everywhere, in all kinds of habitats, and they affect how we live in so many ways. Bread, wine, cheese; all have fungi involved. In natural systems like forests, they promote the renewal of disturbed habitats by forming associations with roots systems which help plants, and forming fruit bodies for animals to eat.

"Clearly, fungi don't have legs and they don't walk, so they've traditionally been classified as plants. But some primitive fungi seem to fall between plants and animals. Some have chitin in their cell walls, which insects have, and some have insect-like enzymes. And, like animals, fungi don't have chlorophyll. Plants use chlorophyll to trap energy from the sun, but fungi have to get their energy from another source."

Making order our of chaos: Teresa's interest in the mysterious world of mushrooms started at university. One of her lecturers had a side interest in fungi and after every field trip his day's collection caught her eye. When she asked what each of them were, he'd say, "It's in this family, but it hasn't got a name ..." Teresa soon got the message - the field of fungi was wide open.

She decided then and there to try and bring more order to the study of native fungi. She left the University of Western Australia with her honours science degree and headed for the US to study the truffle-like fungi for her PhD.

Now, three years on, she can be found examining, drawing and classifying fungi in the laboratory of the Royal Botanic Gardens or heading off with a special rake to dig just under the earth and search for new species of truffle. So far, she's found 50 new species and two new genera.

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Job specs

Botanists study the biology of all types of plants to increase scientific knowledge and apply this knowledge in areas such as conservation and management of natural resources, agriculture, forestry, horticulture, medicine and biotechnology.

Duties:

Botanists may perform the following tasks:

  • investigate the effects of environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, sunlight, soil, topography and disease on plant growth
  • grow plants under controlled conditions to assess the significance of environmental and genetic variables
  • study the genetics of plants using biochemical and molecular techniques in the laboratory and so determine the patterns of plant evolution
  • study the nature and occurrence of plant chromosomes, cells and tissues
  • prepare scientific reports and papers
  • supervise and coordinate the work of technical support staff
  • work with other scientists to develop drugs, medicines and other products from plants
  • search for and classify new species of plants and identify plant specimens
  • prepare handbooks for plant identification
  • use computers for information and data storage and for analysis of data.

Personal requirements:

  • interested in plants and research
  • analytical skills
  • aptitude for working with computers
  • patience
  • enjoy working outdoors
  • able to work independently
  • able to work as part of a team.

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Getting started

Find out more about a career in botany:

National Herbarium of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens
Private Bag 2000 South Yarra, VIC 3141
Tel: (03) 9252 2300

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).

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