FLCC awarded $141K in National Science Foundation funds for research into mushroom sugars

Finger Lakes Community College has received $141,000 in National Science Foundation grants to study methods for extracting mushroom sugars with therapeutic properties in partnership with a Henrietta company.

FLCC faculty and students will collaborate with Empire Medicinals to find the most effective way to produce complex polysaccharides, or sugars, from mycelium, the fibrous root-like parts of mushrooms that are often below ground or in trees.

Faculty member in lab coat
James Hewlett, professor of biology, is the founder of the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative.

“This is a great opportunity for students to work with an industry partner and learn how to set up experiments,” said FLCC professor James Hewlett, coordinator of the college’s biotechnology program. “For the college, it could lead to more partnerships and long-term partnerships with industry.”  

Hewlett is also founder of the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI), a national effort to teach scientific principles and skills through research. CCURI promotes collaboration among community colleges on projects to expand the number of students who have an opportunity to engage in research early in their higher education experience. FLCC will work on the mycelium project with faculty and students from Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pa.

Package of mushrooms
Empire Medicinals, grower of Leep Foods mushrooms, will work with FLCC on research with mushroom sugars.

The grants will enable FLCC to conduct experiments and pay four to five students as undergraduate researchers. In addition, FLCC scientists plan to learn from members of the Funguschain consortium in Europe, a global leader in developing products from mushroom byproducts.

Empire Medicinals cultivates organic mushrooms for the food and restaurant industry under the brand name Leep Foods. It currently grows the mushrooms on hardwood pellets, much as mushrooms in the wild derive nutrients from trees, explained Christopher Carter, co-founder of the company.

For this project, the company is hoping to use another growing medium: whey. Whey is a waste product of the dairy industry but rich in lactose, another kind of sugar. The goal is to grow the rootlike mushroom mycelium in the milk waste and turn it into a food additive.

“We want to show we can use this waste to create a food product, dry it into mycelial flour and use it in foods,” Carter said. The complex mushroom sugars are prebiotic, meaning they promote beneficial gut bacteria, and could be used to improve the health profile of a wide range of foods.

FLCC and MCCC researchers will conduct experiments to determine the most productive ways to grow and extract the sugars. For example, Hewlett said, they will try producing the sugars with different strains of mushrooms under varying temperatures and nutrient conditions.

“This is called ‘proof of concept,’” Hewlett explained. “A lot of startups do not have large budgets for research and development, so they partner with institutions.”

Sarad Parekh, who teaches Introduction to Biomanufacturing II as an adjunct instructor at FLCC, also works as a consultant with Empire Medicinals. He helped bring the company and the college together. Both Parekh and Carter see potential for biotechnology to grow in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region.

“There is an up-and-coming cluster of companies doing biomanufacturing in the Rochester area,” Carter said. Empire Medicinal’s focus on using biotechnology to innovate within the food industry makes sense in a region with major companies like Wegmans and LiDestri, he added. Involving local colleges is critical to build a biomanufacturing workforce. Major companies, Parekh said, “are very interested in getting students trained in this area.”

FLCC previously collaborated with Cheribundi to help the company learn whether storage conditions such as temperature and light could degrade the beneficial compounds in its tart cherry juice.

Students interested in learning more about FLCC’s biotechnology program or how to apply for a research position may contact Hewlett at James.Hewlett@flcc.edu.

Outpouring of support to help #FLCC students with food insecurity

Area food pantries answered a call to help FLCC students dealing with food insecurity – in a big way.
To prepare for the start of the fall semester, Student Corporation leaders recently reached out to local pantries. Just a few days later, Student Affairs staff were busy sorting more than three college van loads of food and necessities, everything from peanut butter and green beans to shampoo.
“To state that these organizations showed up to help FLCC and this initiative in spades is stating it mildly,” said Student Life Director Jennie Erdle, who spent Aug. 11 collecting and delivering the donations to the main campus.
The Salvation Army of Geneva and Twin Cities of Manchester each donated hundreds of items. A third organization, the Canandaigua-based Community Churches in Action, donated 28 pre-packaged bags filled with snacks, canned goods, free milk coupons and more.
Teresa Daddis, student services counselor, joined Jennie to sort and inventory the donations, which will be offered to students who participate in the free drive-in chicken barbecue at the main campus on Sept. 9 from noon to 5 p.m.
To learn more about emergency student support services, click here.
To make a monetary donation to the FLCC food cupboard or other emergency student support services, visit this link: https://give.flcc.edu/page.aspx?pid=298.

FLCC trains 100 high school teachers in online learning

Finger Lakes Community College has provided free training in online teaching to about 100 educators from 20 school districts in Ontario, Seneca, and Wayne counties as well as Monroe and Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES.

With the switch to remote learning in the spring and local districts’ plans for remote and hybrid learning this fall, FLCC began planning training for high school faculty who teach FLCC courses in their home districts via the Gemini program. Gemini allows high schoolers to earn college credit before high school graduation, thereby reducing the total time and expense of college.

FLCC’s training in course design and best practices for remote learning was then expanded to include other teachers.

“FLCC’s willingness to provide training sessions on best practices in remote learning is evidence of the strong partnership they share with area districts, such as Seneca Falls. Working with an institution that has experience in connecting with students virtually, sharing pedagogical practices and planning techniques is a huge benefit to teachers who are moving forward quickly to provide the best instruction possible for K-12 students,” the Seneca Falls Central School District said in a statement following the trainings. “These training sessions not only helped individual educators progress, but strengthened our existing collaborative efforts in educating the whole child and achieving at a high level regardless of the instructional model.”

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