I got an opportunity to have a chat with Polina Degtjarenko, who is finishing her PhD Diploma of Lichenology (a science which study lichens) in Estonia at the moment.
– Hi, Polina. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Could you please tell us a little bit about lichens and remind us – what are they?
– Hello, Polina. Lichens is not a moss, nor a plant. Lichens are fungi which live in symbiosis with algae or cyanobacteries or lichened Ascomycetes. The body of the lichen consist of fungi threads and between them there are green or blue-green cells. Lichens is a fungi which has adapted to live in cohabitation with algae/cyanobacteries. There approx. 20 000 known various species of lichens in the world. In Estonia alone there is 1000 of these known species. Lichens vary from having thin coatings to looking like small bushes and range from red to black colours.
– Wow, that’s impressive! Could you please tell us about the application of this theory in actual practice? What kind of role do they play in Nature?
– It could vary widely. From evaluation of air pollution or nature conservation value, to making flour or baking bread. Also it’s used for textile dyes, medicines, and cosmetics. Their capabilities are virtually unlimited owing to their specific substances, acids or secondary metabolites, which are produced by fungi in this symbiosis. Many acids are unique and their productions are possible only from lichens. They also could be good habitat and source of nourishment for many living organisms – slugs, deers, insects, and humans eat them too
– Sounds good! I want to try lichen-bread now Why did you choose lichenology? What was it that inspired you?
– Generally I am a big fan of nature and especially the boreal north forest. I found out about lichens at school. I knew that they are good indicators of air pollution and since then they stuck in my head. My diplomas (Master and Bachelor) unfortunately were not related with lichens, and when I decided to apply for PhD – I decided to stick with a lichenological work group. And I was absolutely sure, this is good decision, because during the year before I was inspired by my current academic adviser – Estonian lichenologist Tiina Randlane. The more I found about lichens, the more I was fascinated!
– It is nice to speak with someone that really enjoys what they study, it’s a pleasure to meet you and I wish that more people would stick with their dreams.