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Ana Calvo: Reaping benefits from the fungus among us

April 15, 2014
Ana Calvo

Ana Calvo

Ana Calvo’s research on fungal genetics could have huge benefits to human health and agriculture.

She is recognized worldwide as a groundbreaking researcher in the field of fungal genetics and biosynthesis of secondary metabolites. These organic compounds are routinely used in medicine to fight infections (penicillin is a secondary metabolite).

However, these natural products are useful in treatments ranging from lowering cholesterol to combating cancer.

While some metabolites are beneficial, others are harmful. Calvo currently focuses on reducing crop contamination by aflatoxin. This metabolite is the most carcinogenic natural compound known. The presence of aflatoxin in food can cause immune system diseases, cancer and organ failure. Economic losses due to crop contamination exceed $1.4 billion annually in the United States alone.

Since coming to NIU, Calvo has developed an international reputation as a leading researcher in the field, collaborating with groups around the world and with a dozen prominent U.S. universities as well. Her work has been awarded with more than $1 million in competitive research grants from entities such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Along the way, she also has built an enviable record of publishing in top journals and has built the largest research group in the Department of Biological Sciences at NIU.

Calvo’s biomedical research has also yielded a means to significantly increase the production of beneficial compounds, including penicillin and chemotherapy drugs. She has filed three patents covering these innovations.

“Her work is thoughtful, logical, thorough, systematic and significant. The importance of her work is clearly recognized by the fungal genetics, microbiology, plant pathology and secondary metabolism communities,” said Beryl R. Oakley, the Irving S. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Kansas. “She is clearly a major contributor in her field.”