Knowledge atlas Science

Katarina Grabnar Apostolides, amateur mycologist

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Katarina Grabnar Apostolides is an amateur mycologist who has dedicated her career to the research and protection of fungi and their living environments, to raising awareness of these living organisms and their uses as well as the curiosities and risks associated with them. As a mushroom identification expert, independent researcher, and consultant she explores the diversity of mushrooms and thus contributes to the science of mycology at the global level. A member of three Slovenian mushroom and mycological societies, she also works with different prominent institutions and mycologists, and shares her knowledge through mushroom-related exhibitions, excursions, lectures, and workshops.

Name of Field in the local language
Mikologija, določevanje gob
Area of Expertise
Mycology, mushroom identification expert
Scientists / Scientific team
Katarina Grabnar Apostolides
Location, Institution, Website
Tržič, Slovenia
Contact
katarina.hekatka@gmail.com
Type of Institution
Private

Laboratory and research space
At home, at mushroom and mycological societies’ event venues, and at the Institute for the Systematics of Higher Fungi
Materials and equipment
Fresh and dry specimens of various fungi
Technology / Tools / Machines
Knife, microscope, computer, laboratory glassware, scalpel, razor blade, indicators, reagents and stains (Congo red, aniline blue, lugol, FeSo4, Melzer, KOH, HCl, FENOL, VANILIN, NH4OH, GUAJAC, immersion oil, etc.), UV lamps in different spectra, the senses
Research Methods / Processes
Observation, microscopy, macroscopy, fungi systematization, exposing fungi to UV-light at night
Students or other Researchers
Regular collaboration with Slovenian (Bojan Arzenšek, Pavel Jakopič, Majda Jakše Ujčič, Stane Kaiser, Nikica Ogris, Andrej Piltaver, Franc Pohleven, Anton Soklič, and others) and foreign experts and mentors (Ahmed M. Abdel Azeem, Balint Dima, Alan Rockefeller, Nicolas Schwab, Björn Wergen, and others)
Education of the Scientist
All courses and examinations for a certified mushroom identification expert under the Mycological Association of Slovenia, the Institute for the Systematics of Higher Fungi; microscopy exam.

Most impactful project
In 2023, she published the book Zadnja vijoličasta bledivka (The Last Amethyst Deceiver) together with Ana Schnabl. Illustrated by Anja Jerčič Jakob and peer-reviewed by Franc Pohleven the book aims to raise awareness and appreciation of the relationship between people and fungi. Discovery of new species of fungi in Slovenia (Ditangium cerasi, Calonarius suaveolens, Henningsomyces candidus, Rutstroemia alnobetulae, Mucronella bresadolae, Clitocybe subspadicea, Holwaya mucida), which she inscribed in the new yet incomplete list while still collaborating with the Mycological Association of Slovenia; application of a rarely used method using UV light in the observation and identification of fungi.

Awards, certifications, or scientific recognition
Katarina obtained the title of mushroom identification expert and independent consultant from the Mycological Association of Slovenia. In 2022, she concluded her collaboration with the MAS and now calls herself a mushroom identification expert, independent researcher, and consultant, and works extensively with Slovenian and foreign mycologists, including the Ljubljana-based urban mushroom farm Gobnjak. For the last decade and a half she has been building her mycological library with old and new scientific and specialised literature.

Katarina Grabnar Apostolides became fond of mushrooms already as a child, when she foraged for them with her family on Ljubljana’s Golovec Hill and on the Jelovica Plateau.

She soon forged a friendly alliance with these living organisms: “That’s what fascinated me the most, that they were so different, so I always wanted to know their names, who they were, what they were doing, what they were used for, and what they were communicating to us.” She started to research fungi in her twenties, because it was thanks to them that she overcame her drug addiction and healed her liver and stomach. That’s when she delved into medicinal wood fungi, and the preparation of teas and tinctures. The biggest inspiration for her research and application of medicinal species was Russian oncologist and mycologist Irina Filippova. With mushrooms as her lifelong friends and protectors, she “made a commitment to always protect and defend them, and to work for their benefit.”

For twelve years, before she turned 28, she had already lived in many different places across southwestern and western Europe, always learning something new about mushrooms. She walked across Italian hills and mountains, the French Pyrenees, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium before she ended up in England, where she got married and had two daughters. After her divorce she decided to put down roots in her home country Slovenia. Upon her return she began to study mushrooms in various mushroom identification and microscopy courses organised by Slovenian mushroom and mycological societies. She learned the most in the field, “in live interaction with mushrooms.” She also obtained the title of mushroom identification expert, independent consultant. Mushroom identification and mycology are rapidly developing research fields, so it is important to keep track of new scientific and specialised literature as well as to take part in the collaborative efforts of international and intergenerational mycologists. In terms of mycology, Katarina learned the most from her mentors Andrej Piltaver, Slovenia’s ultimate authority in fungal systematics and a member of the Mushroom and Mycology Society of Ljubljana, and Anton Soklič, a record holder in the identification of new fungi in Slovenia and a member of the Gorje Mushroom Society. It is worth mentioning that in Slovenia mycology is not an independent study programme, but one of the courses in biology programmes.

Katarina lives and works in Tržič and is a member of three mushroom and mycology societies – of Gorje, Ljubljana, and Škofja Loka. She works as an independent researcher and amateur mycologist focusing on the diversity of fungi: she studies their reproductive structures called fruiting bodies, as well as their medicinal properties, stains obtained from mushrooms, and traditional knowledge of mushrooms and their uses. Recently, she has been intrigued by bioluminescence and biofluorescence in mushrooms, communication between fungi, and their response to climate change. She puts up mushroom exhibitions, organises excursions, lectures, and workshops, and works with the Gobnjak team. She is also an associate of the Institute for the Systematics of Higher Fungi and the Slovenian Forestry Institute. Through her research she contributes to the Boletus informaticus information system that provides the most comprehensive database on Slovenian fungi and new finds. She passes on her knowledge to the younger generation of mushroom hunters and the interested public, and further develops her mission.

Katarina studies the diversity of mushrooms;

she researches and identifies fungi, including those that have not yet been determined in Slovenia. In addition to studying the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) fungal research includes studying their preferred living arrangements, e.g. symbionts, biotopes, and the seasons, and the factors that affect them, i.e. the study of their susceptibility to adverse factors. The fieldwork takes place in the forest, in meadows, hills, and along rivers – mushroom habitats. Identifying a mushroom specimen involves using the senses first – sight, smell, touch, and taste, but she also helps herself with a UV light, under which certain mushrooms fluoresce, which makes it easier to identify them.

After she has investigated the mushrooms with the naked eye (macroscopy) she uses a microscope for a more accurate identification. Whether at home or at an event venue she needs a sterile microscope, slides, and various tools. She uses the microscope to view microstructures: cystidia, basidia, spores, asci, and other. If these particles are white or hardly visible, she stains them with a chemical reagent. Microscopes have a camera, so she can share microscope images via the computer screen. This comes in handy when she has to consult other mycologists, which is an integral part of research and the identification of new species. The final and most accurate step in mushroom species identification is DNA analysis. She usually sends the samples to Dr. Bálint Dima from the Institute of Biology of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

She has identified seven new species, which she inscribed in the new list of fungi of Slovenia:

Ditangium cerasi, Calonarius suaveolens, Henningsomyces candidus, Rutstroemia alnobetulae, Clitocybe subspadicea, Mucronella bresadolae, and Holwaya mucida. She shares her findings through the Boletus informaticus system, the largest database of Slovenian fungi and finds, as well as in mushroom exhibitions.

Using a scientific method inspired by American mycologist Alan Rockefeller Katarina explores and tests fungi also for their medicinal properties and stains, and has made important contributions to the wider recognition of light emission in fungi (bioluminiscence, biophosphorescence and biofluorescence), which is not only aesthetically appealing, but very useful in the identification of species.

She also takes part at the international MycoBlitz Europe project organized by Swiss mycologist Nicolas Schwab with the aim to promote mycological research. The project offers ten days of free DNA barcoding for the fungi that the participants photograph, dry, and send for analysis. Katarina sent as many as 74 specimens to MycoBlitz Europe 2023. She runs DNA analyses also for varieties of the same species that grow on different substrates, for example. She is happy to be a part of the international mycological community, because “we all make contributions to the same scientific database.”

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