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Scientists from Ecuador spend time in the Illinois College orchid lab


Scientists from the University of Cuenca in Ecuador were at Illinois College to learn how to grow and conserve orchids using fungi -- a method developed by biology professor Larry Zettler.

Raffaella Ansaloni and Denisse Peña both traveled to Jacksonville to learn this technique from Zettler which was made possible due to a mutual collaboration that was formed between the two institutions.

Steven Gardner, professor of modern languages, had already established a relationship with Cuenca, and it was through a BreakAway to Ecuador in 2012 when Zettler connected with a local orchid expert.

“This eventually led to our research collaboration,” Zettler says. “These two scientists are here to learn specifically how we grow and conserve orchids using fungi. They are hoping to apply these techniques to orchids in Ecuador upon their return.”

Ecuador is home to over 4,000 species of orchids, and Ansaloni says that it is the aim of the university to preserve these endangered orchids. “Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and orchids are the main group of plants that are present,” Ansaloni says. “Until now we have been working without the fungal aid, and Dr. Zettler’s experience has shown that it is better to work with mycorrhizal fungi to improve the growth of the orchid.”

Zettler and Gardner are both excited about the opportunities that students will have with this relationship with Cuenca.

“Biology and Spanish majors at IC now have an opportunity to work in the orchid lab in Cuenca while studying abroad, and this is what current student Ellen Radcliffe did just this past semester,” Zettler says.

During their time in Illinois, Ansaloni and Pena also visited the Starhill Forest Arboretum. “We have talked about eventually having a group of University of Cuenca students come to Illinois at some point to learn about conservation projects at Starhill,” Gardner says.

The next meeting between Illinois College and the University of Cuenca will take place during a BreakAway to Ecuador in May 2015.
About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Ill. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs and a Master of Arts in Education degree program. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Visit or call 217-245-3467 for more information.

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