Dr. Sajeewa Maharachchikumbura!!!!!
Sajeewa Maharachchikumbura is one of the best mycologists that COE has created. He received the young scientist award in 2017 for the incredible work he has done for Mycology. In order to have a better insight to his work as well as to get advice from him for the upcoming mycologists we interviewed him.
Q1: Please tell us about your current research focus?
Well, I am working on several research projects. At present, I am particularly interested in understanding the phylogenetic relationships among different groups of fungi, including pathogenic and saprobic, which are belong to the class Sordariomycetes. As a part of an ongoing study, we reviewed 107 families of this second largest class of ascomycetes and provided an updated outline and a backbone tree based on multi gene sequence data. However, a comprehensive phylogenetic classification frame for the whole class is still largely missing. Also, Sordariomycetes is under represented in terms of collections and sequence data and many genera are in need of taxonomic revision. Therefore, greater numbers of sampling and obtain sequence data from fresh collection are essential to stabilize the natural classification of the group. So, in order to achieve these goals we are extensively investigating fresh collections from freshwater and terrestrial niches including karst and bambusicolous habitats. By using the divergence time to provide additional evidence to stabilize ranking of taxa in the class, I hope to bridge the gap between phylogeny and the classical taxonomy of the Sordariomycetes.
As we know in general that tropical and subtropical regions are potentially the richest in fungal diversity. However, Information is lacking about the fungal diversity, and geographic distribution of taxa, especially in the poorly sampled desert and isolated habits. So in this situation, we have focused our research efforts on developing a culture collection for the fungi in desert habitats. During the survey, we continuously observed many unusual ascomycetes. I believe through, this further research, we can begin to understand the relationships among fungi in these overlooked habitats.
Another aspect of our research at the moment is answer questions about how the microbial diversity changes in the rhizosphere upon different farming systems. Because, healthy soils are the crucial to promoting more productive, profitable and sustainable farms and it is important to know the microbial makeup of these soils. In order to understand the beneficial soil microbial community and how they vary with the different farming techniques, abiotic conditions and plant communities we use traditional and 454-pyrosequencing techniques. The initial results arose that really interested us. We also identified several beneficial microbes. We further examine their effects and potential contribution to soil health and function.
Q2: Why do you think being a researcher is important?
I think research is an instrument to build and improve the knowledge and also it shows us the facts and issues we didn’t know before. It can make changes in our lives, make life standard higher and make it safe. Not only in science, but art, history and other areas are also helping in this case. That is the importance of research and being researchers. We are looking for unexploited things. So, sometimes it makes us amazed and pushing to do more and more work to know the actual reason why they are being like that. I think most importantly we have to love what we do. I mean the self-satisfaction is also very important. For instance, the world I am seeing under the microscope is extremely fascinating and as a researcher the work I am doing at the moment is very exciting and I am really enjoying it.
Q3: What does this award mean to you?
Well, I think I found the path to my life through research. The last few years I spent most of my time doing research, so this achievement is a great moral and motivation for future work. I think this award is the dream of all young mycologists in our field, I feel humbly honoured to receive it. Also, I would like to thank my supervisor Prof. Hyde for believing in me. My parents; I am grateful for all the skills they have instilled in me and my wife and my family for their warm support. I also have been surrounded by very good scientists and colleagues, who are always willing to share ideas. I do particularly enjoy working with them. Especially I have to thank Center of Excellence in Fungal Research, Mae Fah Luang University and my colleagues in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Oman and China.
Q4: Is there anyone whose work really inspires you?
I’m glad you asked me that question, I don’t think I am original; I think most of my ideas came from other people. A particular great influence on was my PhD supervisor, Prof. Hyde. He himself is a great inspiration for all of us who help to shape the young minds in mycology. His accomplishments, determinations and his career path always motivated us to achieve higher goals. He was the one that really got me interested in mycology. Also, I have studied in CAS in China and CBS in The Netherlands. The experience and guidance I got from the professors there are enormous. I am always grateful to them.
Q5: What is your advice for the future generation of mycologists?
Steve Jobs famously said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do”. Of course, the dedication to Mycology is must! Work hard! Focused and consistent work is the key to success. Enjoy your successes and try to accept criticism and use them in a positive way to improve. Usually, feedbacks help to make your research stronger. Reading and sharing ideas will guide your research into new directions. Most importantly, you won’t be able to get recognition unless you publish your findings. Always try to publish while maintaining the quality of your output. In my opinion, expert knowledge can always improve the quality of your paper. Same time tries to establish professional relationships and collaborations with others. Remember, mycology is a team effort! Always embrace the chances to learn, not only the subject, but teaching skills, writing grant proposals and all other abilities required in your future career. You have to understand that your research interest may change in the future. Therefore, learn with a broader perspective around your topic as possible. Be up-to-date.