Professor, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Nina Gunde-Cimerman has dedicated most of her scientific life to the study of extremophilic fungi. Extremophilic Archae and Bacteria have been studied for many years, while eukaryotic extremophilic microorganisms were unchartered possibly because it was considered unlikely that they existed at all because of the higher complexity and thus vulnerability of the eukaryotic cell. About 20 years ago she was among the first to recognize that extremophilic fungi, if they could be isolated and cultivated,  could offer new insights in how microorganisms and possibly plants adapt to extreme conditions such as high salt concentrations. Subsequently, her surprising isolation of certain fungal species, especially black yeasts, from salt pans on several continents led to the realization that some of these species had developed mechanism to deal with low water activity that not only secured adaption to saturated solutions of sodium chloride but also to the low-water activity conditions in ice, for instance in Arctic or Alpine environments. Over the years, Nina Gunde-Cimerman and co-workers have developed a deep insight into the ecology, the genetics as well as the adaptive molecular mechanisms of some of these species, some of which are unique also from an evolutionary point of view. 


Over the last several years Nina Gunde-Cimerman has studied the surprising fact that some of these extremophilic fungi are opportunistic human pathogens and as some of them are able to survive and proliferate in household appliances such as dishwashers, they present a growing threat to human health. Nina Gunde-Cimerman is the co-author of a large number of peer-reviewed papers including reviews, she is or has been editor of a number of journals and monographs and is frequently invited as a speaker at prominent international meetings on several continents. She is the curator of Ex, the largest culture collection of extremophilic fungi  and has with her group and international collaborators discovered and described many new fungal species and even families. For that and other purposes, her group has recently engaged in bioinformatics and genomic analyses that already have yielded novel and surprising results.