Robert A. Blanchette
Ph.D. (Plant Pathology), Washington State University
M.S. (Forest Pathology), University of New Hampshire
B.A. (Biology/Botany), Merrimack College
Areas of Interest
Forest Pathology; Deterioration of Wood Products
My major interests are in the area of forest pathology and wood microbiology with research in tree defense mechanisms, deterioration processes of wood, biotechnological uses of forest fungi, biological control of forest pathogens, and the conservation of archaeological wood and wood of historic value. Projects involve novel, interdisciplinary approaches to solving tree disease problems and understanding the biology and ecology of forest microbes.
A new paper out in FUNGI Magazine by Bob Blanchette explores extraordinary masks made from polypores and used in Shamanic rituals by the Indigenous People of North America and Asia. Fungi used, such as Laricifomes officinalis (Agarikon) and Ganoderma, are known to have medicinal properties and the Shaman used these in displays of supernatural power to ward off evil and to cure the sick. Read more >>
The Blanchette Lab has created educational videos about Heterobasidion root disease, its impact, and how to prevent and manage it in pine plantations. The first video includes forest pathologist Ben Held discussing background information about the disease and how to identify the pathogen. Watch the video>>
The forest pathology lab has had several exciting new research developments, grants, graduate students and publications this past year. Research is underway with new funding from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (a fund originating from State lottery proceeds) to study several tree disease situations and fungal biodiversity projects in Minnesota. We are monitoring and developing effective management procedures for Heterobasidion root rot, a serious new disease to Minnesota affecting red and white pines that has recently been found near Winona, MN. This work is being done in collaboration with Brian Schwingle, graduate of the department and currently a Tree Insect and Disease Specialist with the MNDNR. Another project in collaboration with Chad Giblin and Gary Johnson in Forest Resources is selecting elms from the Minnesota landscape that have resistance to Dutch elm disease and identifying defense mechanisms responsible for resistance. Subterranean fungi from deep within the Soudan Iron Mine and from Minnesota caves are also being investigated. This work is yielding many new species that tolerate heavy metals with potential for use in bioprocessing as well as providing antagonistic saprophytes that are being tested for possible use as biocontrol agents against the fungus that causes white nose syndrome in bats. Other projects include biodiversity studies in very different environments, including temperate, tropical and the Polar Regions. Studies in the Ecuadorean Rain Forests of the Amazon focus on identifying the major wood decomposers and elucidating their mode of action in carbon cycling. This work is in cooperation with past department graduates Maria Ordonez and Charlie Barnes who are now professors in Ecuador. Our polar microbiology projects have resulted in several recent publications. One reporting the unusual fungi associated with historic wood on Deception Island in Antarctica and another on fungi from the opposite end of the earth that reports fungi from Siberia, Iceland and Greenland. A NSF grant is providing funds to better understand decay mechanisms of brown and white rot fungi with proteomic investigations as these fungi attack wood and a new USDA Forest Service grant in collaboration with James Jacobs (graduate of the department) is allowing a detailed study of the Ganoderma species that attack aspen and other trees. A new genus and several new species of fungi have recently been reported and named. Two new graduate students, Cristina Toapanta and Liam Genter, join graduate students Eric Otto, Garrett Beier, Josh Kielsmeier-Cook and Lauren Jackson and Research Scientist Benjamin Held who are working on these projects. Visiting scientists and students from Egypt, Uruguay, India and Denmark provided many informative and diverse experiences with us this past year. Check out all the recent publications and updates from the group at this website.