WESLACO, Texas - Biology and engineering students will meet on the Internet this fall to take a college-level course about mold and how it affects buildings and public health. The course will be offered by the College of Agricultural Sciences and Human Resources at Texas A&M University-Kingsville to graduate and undergraduate students worldwide.

Class instructor Dr. Mani Skaria is a plant pathologist at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center in Weslaco and an expert in mycology, or the study of mold.

"This class is unique in a couple of ways," Skaria said. "It is likely the first class ever that will link the disciplines of biology and engineering, disciplines not normally associated with each other. And the course will be offered in a virtual classroom at a Web site so that any student anywhere in the world can take this course."

Molds play an important role in the environment, Skaria said, breaking down dead organic matter such as dead leaves and trees. Invisible to the naked eye, mold spores float through the air, reproducing when they land on wet surfaces. Indoor mold, he said, can damage the plant-derived building materials on which they grow, including lumber, sheetrock, and ceiling tiles. Human health can be affected by the allergens indoor molds release.

"While mold-related property insurance claims may finally be declining, molds and the harm they cause continue to cost us millions of dollars annually," Skaria said. "But with the proper knowledge, both about the biology of molds and the construction of buildings, it is possible to implement practical solutions to greatly reduce these losses and the health problems molds cause."

A free, condensed version of the class with practical mold management guidelines will be made available to the general public later this year on the Web site of the American Phytopathological Society, Skaria said.

In addition to the biology of molds and plants, the course will cover various facets of building construction associated with molds, including condensation, air conditioning units, water intrusions, exterior mold growth, mold inspections, and control strategies. Mold case studies in various types of buildings, including homes, schools, apartments, nursing homes, and jails, will be discussed. Guest lecturers from the health and construction fields also will present materials.

"This course has been designed so that engineering students will not need an in-depth biology background, nor will biology students need an engineering background to successfully complete this course," said Skaria.

Those wishing to take the three credit-hour, semester-long course, titled "Mold, Plants, Buildings and Public Health," must register with Texas A&M University-Kingsville by contacting Skaria via e-mail at m-skaria@tamu.edu or by phone at 956-968-2132.

Publication date: 09/06/2004