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Biography of Dr. Joyce E. Longcore

By Dr. D. Rabern Simmons

Dr. Longcore (right) and Dr. Simmons (left)

An Expert with Deep Rhizoids

Joyce Longcore was born in South Haven, MI. She received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Michigan in 1960, after which she worked for a postgraduate year for Dr. Frederick K. Sparrow, Jr., the renowned author of Aquatic Phycomycetes (1st ed. 1943, 2nd ed. 1960), the singular monographic work that includes what we now call the Chytridiomycota and Blastocladiomycota. Sparrow was a Professor of Botany at the University of Michigan from 1936 to 1972, additionally serving as Director or Acting Director of the University of Michigan Biological Station from 1967 to 1971.

Longcore continued her education at Indiana University, receiving an M.A. in 1963 under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Johns, a former Ph.D. student of Sparrow, before returning to the University of Michigan to work for Sparrow. After marriage in 1964, Longcore moved to Maryland, but continued to work for Sparrow in the laboratory of Dr. Robert A. Paterson, another former student of Sparrow, who at the time taught at the University of Maryland. For 20 years, Longcore identified as a “full-time housewife and mother”, moving to Orono, Maine in 1976. In 1984, Longcore began graduate school at the University of Maine, with Dr. Richard Homola, a Basidiomycota specialist and former graduate student of Dr. Alexander Smith, serving as her graduate adviser. Sparrow had passed away in 1977, and few other investigators were continuing to examine chytrid and blastoclad fungi. Longcore combed the literature for systematic work published since the second edition of Aquatic Phycomycetes and learned how others were isolating chytrids into pure culture. Although she started out by comparing the zoosporic fungi in two adjacent lakes in Hancock Co., Maine, she soon found new fungal species for which she needed to generate descriptions. In the 1980s, zoospore ultrastructure had become a key line of evidence for new taxonomic groupings of chytrid fungi, and Dr. Donald J. S. Barr hosted Longcore in his Agriculture Canada laboratory in Ottawa to learn electron microscopy techniques for chytrids. In 1991, Longcore received a Ph.D. from the University of Maine. In her dissertation, she described 3 new species using observations made by light and electron microscopy, including the new genus Lacustromyces, and the species Chytriomyces angularis, which would later become the type specimen of the order Lobulomycetales.

Since earning her Ph.D., Longcore has maintained a modest laboratory at the University of Maine, has had four graduate students, and is currently an Associate Research Professor in the School of Biology & Ecology. She has focused on culturing a diverse assemblage of zoosporic eufungi, and in that process developed an extensive collection of chytrids and blastoclads (the “JEL” collection) over the last 30 years. Longcore began a collaboration with Dr. Timothy Y. James (Curator of CZEUM) when he was a Ph.D. student at Duke University in the laboratory of Dr. Rytas Vilgalys. In 2000, James published the first comprehensive molecular phylogeny of chytrid fungi, including a large number of JEL cultures. Molecular phylogenetics, along with the discovery of the amphibian pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and its isolation and culturing by Longcore, spurred a revitalization of systematic work on chytrid fungi. Over the years, Longcore has isolated nearly 1000 cultures, and of these, over 600 are still available, including 127 isolates of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Separate from the cultures with JEL designations, Longcore also maintained 115 isolates of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis from collaborative studies, making the total JEL collection (which was the founding material of the CZEUM collection) one of the largest living collections of this pathogen. In 2017, Longcore received the Golden Goose Award from the National Academy of Sciences for her ground breaking work on B. dendrobatidis, which was rooted in her painstaking work on chytrid biodiversity and discovery. For more information please see this webpage:

In 2018, Longcore wished to ensure a more permanent, cryopreserved residency for the JEL collection at the University of Michigan, where James was now an Associate Professor and Associate Curator of Fungi. Until that time, Longcore maintained cultures either on agar slants or in vials of liquid media that she transferred quarterly, or via cryopreservation in liquid nitrogen Dewars. The former method required intensive efforts in preparation, transferring, observation, and maintenance, whereas the latter was less time-consuming, but required weekly, manual additions of liquid nitrogen to maintain cryopreservation. At the University of Michigan Research Museums Center, the University of Michigan Herbarium (MICH) cryopreservation unit contains automated liquid nitrogen freezers, allowing for near-permanent storage of cryopreserved tissues. Dr. D. Rabern Simmons, graduate student of Longcore and then postdoctoral researcher for James, facilitated the safe, cryopreserved transfer of Longcore’s specimens, and constructed the collection database from Longcore’s previous iteration, including information from her personal logs.