Brianna Santamaria


Brianna Santamaria





I am an undergraduate researcher at the University of Central Florida. I currently work with the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that infects and manipulates Carpenter ants. My research includes finding the optimum conditions to grow O. unilateralis in the ant host under laboratory conditions, and also the most effective way to grow and store the fungus inside the lab. I would like to continue working with parasitic fungus in graduate school, but I want to work with plant hosts instead of ants. I plan on obtaining a master’s degree in Plant Pathology with an emphasis on fungal-plant interactions and pursue a career in research.

Faculty Mentor

Charissa de Bekker Ph.D, Assistant Professor

Undergraduate Major


Future Plans

Master’s degree in Plant Pathology


Advisor: Dr. Charissa de Bekker Institution: University of Central Florida Abstract: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitic fungus that manipulates the behavior of Carpenter ants. The fungus causes ants to climb up and bite down onto vegetation where they eventually die. Post mortem, the fungus grows a stalk with a fruiting body from the base of the ant’s head. It then releases its spores to infect other ants. To study this phenomenon in more detail, it is crucial to effectively culture O. unilateralis on plates and grow a fungal stalk from the ant in the laboratory. I am, therefore, asking what the most effective way is to culture and store O. unilateralis, and what lab conditions will result in fungal stalk growth from infected manipulated ants. To answer the first question, I am testing different media and culturing conditions and their effects on fungal growth speeds and cell density. I am also testing the viability of the fungus after frozen storage versus continuous growth in an incubator. Another related question I am testing is if there are growth differences between cultures that have been grown in the lab for some time versus those that were collected more recently from the field. To answer the second question, I am testing ants under various, humidity, temperature, and light cycle conditions. The variables that I am testing are based on the environmental conditions in Central Florida. Growth measurements are taken with macrophotography. Culturing O. unilateralis effectively and growing the fungal stalk in the lab would greatly improve future experiments.


Biology | Life Sciences | Plant Pathology | Plant Sciences

Brianna Santamaria