J. André Fortin Excellence Award

The J. André Fortin Excellence Award is presented every year to a student having defended the best thesis of the previous year in the fields of mycology and mycorrhizae. This 1000$ award was made possible thanks for a very generous annual donation from Mr J. André Fortin.

Following a long academic career at Université Laval where he became a leading researcher in the field of mycorrhizae, Mr. J. André Fortin became the IRBV’s first director when the Institute was founded in 1990. He was then awarded the title of Scientific Researcher of the Year by Radio-Canada for his contribution to the creation of the Institute. He then managed to put together a very productive research lab in the field of mycorrhyzae and following his departure from the IRBV in 1996, he remained active in both the fondamental and applied aspects of mycology research.

Terms and conditions

The J. André Fortin Excellence Award is presented to a student registered in a doctoral program at the Université de Montréal, supervised or co-supervised by a professor-researcher at the IRBV. The student’s thesis defense must have taken place during the year preceding the application, between September 1st of the previous year to August 31st of the current year.

Applicants must submit all of the following documents:

  • The front page, abstract and index of the thesis. The latter index must include the publication status of every chapter (submitted, under revision, or published; if published, include article’s full bibliographical notice);
  • the report from the defense jury;
  • a letter of recommendation from the research supervisor.

Application deadline

The deadline for student applications is August 31st of each year (exceptionnally 18 September in 2020). An electronic version of all documents must be submitted in PDF format to Laurence Honoré (laurence.honore@umontreal.ca).

2019 recipient

Soon Jae LeeSoon-Jae Lee is the third recipient of the J. André Fortin Fellowship, for his thesis entitled “The evolution of the RNA interference system, the blue light eetection mechanism and the circadian clock in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis”.

As part of his doctoral project, Soon-Jae Lee has studied arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), known to form a symbiosis with more than 80% of plant species on the planet. The AMF-plant symbiosis (AM symbiosis) is the backbone of the plant holobiont by mediating the interaction between the soil microbiome and the plant.

Although it plays a crucial role in the regulation of genes, especially with symbiosis, the RNAi system has never been studied in AMF. The same goes for the mechanisms for detecting blue light. Only a few studies have shown that blue light can affect spore germination and hyphal growth of AMF, and the mechanism has not been elucidated. In the case of the circadian clock, although circadian rhythms are ubiquitous in fungi and a diurnal rhythm of hyphal growth has been reported in AMF during a field study, the mechanism remains unknown. Soon-Jae Lee has developed his doctoral project to study the evolution of the RNAi system, mechanisms of blue light detection and circadian clock in AMF Rhizophagus irregularis, using approaches to both bioinformatics and molecular biology. Soon-Jae’s specific project objectives were to: 1) investigate whether the RNAi system is conserved in R. irregularis and explore the evolutionary characteristics of its ‘core’ proteins; 2) describe the mechanism of detection of blue light in R. irregularis; and 3) to reveal a fungal circadian clock mechanism in R. irregularis.

He identified particular evolutionary features in the R. irregularis RNAi system, such as horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of his key gene encoding autotrophic cyanobacteria ribonuclease III protein, which had never been observed in any eukaryote. He also discovered and identified an ancient mechanism for detecting blue light related to the circadian clock in AMF. It was intriguing to find a circadian clock kept in this symbiont with an underground way of life.

The projects have advanced our understanding of the important mechanisms that regulate the expression of various genes in the oldest and most common symbiotic partner of plants. The results of his thesis project also provide new information on the putative interactions between cyanobacteria and the ancestor of AMF, which resulted in the horizontal exchange of genes in the RNAi system. It also expands knowledge about the evolution of the core circadian gene in fungi. In addition, his discoveries on the circadian clock and the exit genes in R. irregularis open the door to the chronological study of the AM symbiosis, which will serve as a model for the plant holobiont, connecting the rhythms between the subsoil and the part above the ground.

Soon-Jae Lee won the Best Research Award at the 2017 Mycorrhizes Conference, with the originality of his research. He has contributed to various research on mycorrhizal symbiosis, including three articles published as the first author. Soon-Jae Lee is actively pursuing his scientific career in the field of mycorrhizal symbiosis, from the fundamental to the application of the subject.

2018 recipient

Thomas PrayThomas J. Pray is the second recipient of the J. André Fortin Fellowship, for his thesis entitled “The effect of mycorrhizal fungi associated with willows growing on marginal agricultural land”.

For his PhD, Thomas evaluated the impact of mycorrhizal inoculants on two willow clones used for biomass production on marginal lands. This experiment, supported by a grant from the Agri-Food Innovation Support Program of the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec, served as the starting point for his work. Thomas was responsible for implementing the field experiment and analyzed the effect of various parameters (soil texture, mycorrhizal inoculation, nitrogen fertilization) on tree growth over three years. He also investigated the impact of these parameters on the diversity of fungi associated with their rhizosphere. He was very rigorous in choosing the methodology and parameters to be studied, which included both natural and introduced fungal populations in the test.

The originality of his Ph.D. research topic lies in the fact that the study involved the production of biomass under real conditions and on a commercial scale, with analysis of more than 21 600 trees, as well as the use of commercially available inoculants rather than strains from research collections. Beyond the potential direct applications of this research in biomass production, he also focused on developing a better understanding of the interactions between soil microorganisms and willows in agricultural environments.

The knowledge generated in this work is original and useful for both the management of willow crops and the knowledge of fungal biodiversity in this type of crop. Using a high throughput sequencing method, Thomas obtained an abundance matrix of more than 702 functional taxonomic units of fungi, several of which were dominant in the tree rhizosphere and similar to mycorrhizal fungal sequences. These matrices also showed that soil texture and nitrogen fertilization significantly influenced the fungal community, while inoculation did not have a significant effect on tree growth. He interpreted this last result as being due to the competitiveness of species native to the sites studied and launched a discussion on the opportunity to manage these symbiotic communities through cultural treatments in order to increase the potential benefits for willows.

A chapter of his thesis is now published in the journal Forests.

2017 recipient

Alice Roy BolducAlice Roy-Bolduc is the first recipient of the new J.-André-Fortin Excellence Award, for her thesis on fungal communities in the soil, specifically on their dynamics, succession and interactions with the vegetation of a coastal dune ecosystem in the Magdalen Islands, Quebec.

Her thesis, supervised by Mohamed Hijri and Étienne Laliberté of the IRBV as well as Stéphane Boudreau of Université Laval, impressed the entire selection committee with its originality and excellence. The results of Alice’s research contribute to our knowledge of the processes of evolution and interaction in plant and fungal communities of dune systems. The data obtained through techniques based on molecular biology, high throughput sequencing and advanced bio-informatics provided the young researcher with sufficient material to publish six articles over the course of her doctoral studies, three of them as first author in high calibre journals, and one as the principal author of a literature review.

The impact of Alice Roy-Bolduc’s contribution is not limited to the new knowledge that her scientific studies reveal about the dynamics and interaction in fungal dune communities in the Magdalen Islands. She has also left her mark in her workplace and in the community. As an involved and much-loved student representative, Alice has organized many social and educational events. With her boundless energy and dynamic personality, she has helped make possible events as varied as Christmas parties and symposiums in the Department of Biological Sciences, and a scientific book club on soil microorganisms. Actively involved in environmental causes, Alice relies on her bicycle for transportation year-round. She is also involved in many different causes, including the annual cleanup of Mount Royal Park, where she has staffed the IRBV’s booth and recruited a team of volunteer biologists from the IRBV to collect data on tree and shrub growth over a period of several years.