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BYU student studies the Black Fingers of Death

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PROVO -- A BYU student is working to see if the Black Fingers of Death could help keep Utah from catching fire as a result of cheatgrass.

When's it is close to Halloween, who doesn't love the name Black Fingers of Death? However, the name may be deceiving because it is the name of a fungus that is being studied at BYU. The study looks to see if BFOD can help kill off cheatgrass, which has been taking over meadows and open lands throughout the western states and burning easily.

"We're in the process of finding the best way to apply BFOD to open spaces and hopefully prevent a lot of destruction," Finch said.

BYU student Heather Finch said they've found the fungus can kill dormant seeds and seeds just before they start growing, without doing damage to native plants. The idea, now, is to find the best way to apply the fungus on the cheat grass so it can do its deadly work.

"We first believed BFOD had no chance of killing non- dormant seeds," Finch said. "As soon as these seeds get enough water, they grow. However, we found that if it rains just a little bit, BFOD can start to infect the seed and does kill it so that by the next time it rains, the fingers appear on the seeds, indicating they're all dead."

It's one thing to have classroom experience, it's another to go out in the field and say I've had one on one experience with a problem.

–Heather Finch

Finch said there is a problem with spraying the fungus on the cheatgrass because the chemicals only kill the plant, but not the seeds. BFOD targets the seeds specifically to prevent future growth and proliferation of the weed.

Getting hands-on experience has been a great opportunity to take classroom learning to the real world, Finch said.

"It's one thing to have classroom experience, it's another to go out in the field and say I've had one on one experience with a problem," Finch said. "I've seen what kind of devastation it can create, and I'm trying to help create a solution to the problem."

Finch has been studying the BFOD fungus since her second semester at BYU while pursuing her undergraduate degree in environmental science. She plans to continue her study of BFOD with her Master's Degree next semester.



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Randall Jeppesen


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