UD awarded $1.5 million USDA grant to study lima beans

January 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Researchers from UD study lima beansDelaware is currently the number two producer of lima beans in the United States, second only to California and with the possibility of becoming number one in the future.

Because of this, it is imperative to study the many aspects of various diseases affecting the crop in Delaware and throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Such work requires a collaborative effort and a team has been assembled thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant.

The grant awarded to the University of Delaware includes researchers from UD, Delaware State University, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Cornell University and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) who will begin studying the various effects of plant disease on lima beans in the First State.

The many aspects of this grant will include studies that are being conducted for the first time in history.

There are six components to the grant, each with various researchers studying different parts of the problem. They are conducting research on downy mildew, pod blight, white mold, root knot nematodes and germplasm resources and developing an economic analysis.

Downy mildew

Downy mildew is a fungal-like disease of the lima bean caused by Phytophthora phaseoliand the goal of the research team is to improve disease forecasting and look at genetic diversity of the population of the pathogen. In this way, researchers will be able to inform farmers of their risk of occurrence of the disease and have a better understanding of the genetics of the pathogen.

Tom Evans and Nicole Donofrio, professors of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Nancy Gregory, plant diagnostician for UD, will work together on this part of the project.

Pod blight

Pod blight is caused by the pathogen known as P. capsici and Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, will work on this part of the study with Evans and Gregory.

Unlike downy mildew, which is a disease that generally affects only lima beans, P. capsicihas a very wide host range. Once it strikes a particular crop, it is very difficult to get rid of, with pathogen’s spores lasting up to 10 years in the soil. Because of this, pod blight is an increasing problem for growers. The disease occurs in low-lying areas of fields and is more frequent in wet years. Therefore, this part of the project has three goals: to look for a fungicide to deal with the disease, to monitor the disease, and to look for alternative or organic non-pesticide driven strategies for control.

The study is also looking at risk management strategies, including information for growers in the state about the best time to spray for disease control and consideration of alternate control strategies.

Gregory, who diagnoses field samples collected by the research team and growers, maintains cultures of the pathogens and produces  the inoculum for the studies, said that the researchers are eager to “learn more about the epidemiology and the spread of pod blight and downy mildew, that will enable us to do a little bit better job on forecasting.”

She also noted how great is to have so many expert researchers involved, noting that she is looking forward to making significant progress on problems that have plagued the region for years. “To pull together a strong team of researchers like this and many new graduate students is really going to pull a lot of this research together and we’ll really come up with some great results.”

White mold

Kate Everts, an adjunct associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD and a Cooperative Extension specialist with both UD and the University of Maryland, is leading research on alternative ways to control white mold, another disease that is very difficult to eliminate.

With an even broader host range than P. capsici, and an even longer life — persisting in soils for 20-30 years — finding out as much about the disease as possible, as well as possible ways to control it, is imperative.

Everts will look not just at lima beans but other crops, as well, as she tests biological control strategies and alternative control strategies for dealing with the white mold.

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University of Delaware plant and soil sciences chair named AAAS Fellow

December 3, 2012 under CANR News

Blake C. Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Designation as a fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers.

Meyers received the award in large part because of his contributions to bioinformatics and plant functional genomics of model and crop plants, especially in the area of small RNA biology.

Meyers explained that he has been involved in the field of plant genomics for more than 15 years, with the most intensive research taking place at the laboratory he established at UD’s Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

Noting that he has an ongoing and long-running collaboration with Pamela J. Green, the Crawford H. Greenewalt Endowed Chair in Plant Molecular Biology, Meyers said that the collaboration helped him to focus on small RNAs as a particularly productive field in which to apply his work on “next-generation” DNA sequencing technologies.

“Collaborative research is key to our success, as we’ve worked with experts in rice, maize, soybean, model plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana and Medicago truncatula, tomato, numerous other plants, fungi and even chickens, contributing our expertise and tools, and learning from our collaborators, their biological materials, and the comparisons we’ve made across organisms and their genomes,” said Meyers.

Meyers said of the AAAS announcement, “It is really a tremendous honor, because it reflects a recognition by my scientific peers of the quality and impact of both the work of my lab and my own contributions to science. The AAAS is a remarkable organization so I’m really thankful to be elected a fellow.”

He also said the honor would not have been possible without the help of the many researchers with whom he has collaborated over the years. “The honor should be shared with my past and present lab members, as I’ve been lucky to work with excellent lab members over the 10 years that I’ve been at the University of Delaware.”

Meyers said the recognition is to be shared by UD as well, as he has had “strong institutional encouragement and support from the University, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and my department, including excellent peers, top-tier facilities in which to carry out our work and access and support with the latest generation of technologies that my lab requires to carry out its work.”

Meyers has also participated in activities shaping the future of bioinformatics in plant biology.

“Like many plant biologists, I feel a responsibility to help advance agriculture which has tremendous challenges due to population growth, environmental pressures and climate change, and increasing demands on natural resources,” said Meyers. “The AAAS has long promoted science as the means to help address issues such as these, so their recognition of my work is quite gratifying.”

Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said of Meyers, “Dr. Meyers’ work in plant genetics and molecular biology is known around the world and reflects extremely well on the college and the University of Delaware.”

Rieger added he is “thrilled that AAAS has recognized his research. He is one of the youngest faculty that I know to have received this recognition, and I predict he’ll have an even greater impact on his discipline in the coming years.”

About Blake C. Meyers

Blake C. Meyers received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California Davis.

He joined the UD faculty in 2002 and was named the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plants and Soil Sciences in 2010.

Meyers’ lab has pioneered the application to mRNA and small RNA analyses of what was the first of the now-popular “next-generation” DNA sequencing technologies. Research in his laboratory is supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and industry.

About AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.

Founded in 1848, AAAS serves some 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and more.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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High school students explore College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

October 22, 2012 under CANR News

High school students interested in studying food science, plant and soil science and poultry science at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) had a chance to take a closer look at those fields on Friday, Oct. 12, as part of the college’s Exploration Day.

The day started with a continental breakfast in the Townsend Hall Commons followed by a reception at which professors from the departments welcomed the students to the college.

Among those were Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Jack Gelb, professor and chair of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

Meyers talked about the diverse areas of expertise in the plant and soil sciences department, with professors working in areas ranging from horticulture to landscape design to sequencing plant DNA. “It’s a remarkable department for the range of expertise that we have and we have wonderful student to faculty ratios,” said Meyers. “We have a relatively small undergraduate program, and a larger graduate program in some respects, so that really affords a lot of opportunities for one on one interactions between students and faculty and a lot of research opportunities, and of course a lot of those opportunities lead to internships and lead to jobs later on.”

Gelb spoke to the parents and students about the plethora of job opportunities available to them in the agriculture and natural resources field. “Colleges of agriculture and natural resources generally graduate 30,000 students a year across this nation but really, we need about 50,000 to 60,000,”said Gelb. “There are many job opportunities, so I think this is good news for the parents and the students alike, especially when you’re making a big commitment for that college education.”

After a presentation on admissions and scholarships by Heidi Mulherin, UD admissions counselor, the students divided into three groups — one for students interested in food science, one for plant science and one for poultry science.

The food science students got to visit the UDairy Creamery in the morning, where they tried their hand at making ice cream and participated in an ice cream taste test. In the afternoon, they had lessons on topics such as food packaging and investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.

The plant and soil science students learned about suburban landscaping with Sue Barton, associate professor of plant and soil science; toured the Fischer Greenhouse and the UD Botanic Gardens with David Frey, associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and explored a plant cell with Janine Sherrier, professor of plant and soil sciences at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

As for the poultry science students, they had a chance to tour the Allen Laboratory in the morning, and in the afternoon, they learned about avian histopathology for disease diagnosis from Erin Brannick, assistant professor of animal and food sciences and director of the CANR Comparative Pathology Laboratory, and investigated a foodborne illness outbreak with Kali Kniel, associate professor of animal and food sciences.

The three groups had lunch together in the Townsend Hall Commons before breaking off for panel discussions with current UD students and alumni from their respective areas of interest.

Latoya Watson, academic adviser at CANR, said of the event, “Exploration Day is designed to introduce high school students to some of our science-based majors in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Students participate in hands-on activities so that they can get a better understanding of their majors of interest. For example, depending on the track students choose, ‘student explorers’ may find themselves touring our Biosafety Level 3 avian research facility, performing activities that simulate a foodborne illness outbreak or even traveling inside plant cells by using some of the most high tech microscopes. These are unique experiences that we hope give them more insight into their intended fields of study.”

Patrick McDonough, a student interested in plant science who manages his own vegetable garden at his home in New Jersey, said that he was looking forward to touring the Fischer Greenhouse.

Caroline Coffee was one of the students who participated in Exploration Day, and she said that she enjoyed touring the Allen Laboratory and getting to see the chickens. “I’ve never held a chicken before and never worked with chickens,” said Coffee. “That was just a really cool experience for me.”

Coffee, who is interested in studying veterinary medicine, said that she also enjoyed learning more about virology and getting to tour the CANR facilities. “The facilities are definitely impressive and if I decided to go here and get accepted, knowing what I would have as far as the hands-on things and the opportunities for my education was really cool.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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CANR announces 2012 Benton graduate student award winners

June 25, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has announced the winners of the 2012 William J. Benton Graduate Student Awards. The 2012 recipients are Rachael Vaicunas, Jixian Zhai and Kirsten Hirneisen.

The awards were established in honor of William J. Benton, former CANR associate dean of research and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS).

Rachael Vaicunas

Vaicunas received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Department of Bioresources Engineering, and she said that studying in the department “was a great experience because it provided me with valuable skills that will be useful for my future as an engineer.”

She is researching water quality throughout the state of Delaware, specifically looking at “concentrations of hormones and antibiotics in surface waters across the state and how different land uses affect water quality.”

Vaicunas said that receiving the Benton Award has made her “feel like I brought value to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.” She also wanted to acknowledge her graduate adviser, Shreeram Inamdar, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), as she called him “a great mentor and motivator throughout my time at UD.”

Jixian Zhai

Zhai, a doctoral student in CANR, said his research focuses on understanding the roles of small RNA molecules in plant development and disease resistance. He conducts his research by utilizing high throughput sequencing technology, studying the small RNA molecules in a variety of plant species.

Zhai said that he is “really honored to receive this award and very grateful to the donors who always support graduate research in CANR. I believe this is an important step in my career and I am deeply motivated to live up to the expectation of this prestigious award.”

Zhai called his adviser, Blake Meyers, Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences and chair of the department, an “extraordinary adviser” and he wanted to thank Meyers for “all the guidance as well as the freedom that he gave me on my research.”

Kirsten Hirneisen

Hirneisen, also a doctoral student in CANR, said that receiving the Benton Award is “a great honor. Past recipients have been wonderful students and great scientists and it’s a wonderful feeling to be associated with them through this award.”

Hirneisen’s area of research is microbial food safety and she said that she enjoys working in the field because it encompasses many different areas. “As a food safety microbiologist; I get to be involved in all these areas to control hazards from the field to fork.”

Her doctoral research focuses on “the enteric viruses, including Hepatitis A Virus and human noroviruses, and their interactions with fresh produce in a field environment. The impacts of my research helps assess the risk of human pathogen contamination of produce and aids in the development of strategies to ensure a safe food supply.”

Hirneisen said that her adviser Kali Kniel, associate professor of ANFS, has been “a wonderful mentor to me and a great role model.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

 

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UD researchers identify novel regulatory network within legumes

January 26, 2012 under CANR News

Three collaborating laboratories in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware — those of professors Blake Meyers, Janine Sherrier and Pamela J. Green — recently identified a novel regulatory network within legumes, including in alfalfa and soybean plants.

The work was performed predominantly by Jixian Zhai, a doctoral student in the department and was published in the December issue of the prestigious journal Genes & Development, one of the top journals in molecular biology and genetics. The genomics project was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Conducting their research at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI), the investigators set out to get a comprehensive view of how small RNAs function in legumes and how they might be important to these plant species. They focused their work on the chromosomal sequences (genome) of Medicago, a legume genus that includes both the crop plant alfalfa and the species that was recently sequenced, Medicago truncatula.

The researchers sequenced libraries containing millions of small RNAs, important gene regulatory molecules, as well as the genes targeted by these small RNAs. Using advanced computational techniques to categorize the RNA sequences, they identified a novel function for a handful of “microRNAs” — special small RNAs that direct the targeted destruction of specific protein-coding messenger RNAs.

Among these plant microRNAs, the team determined that many target genes encode NBS-LRRs, or “guard proteins” that function in defense against pathogenic microbe infiltration. These NBS-LRRs function as an immune system to battle pathogens but presumably must be suppressed to allow the interactions with beneficial microbes for which legumes are particularly well known. The result of this microRNA targeting is a complex network of co-regulated small RNAs that Zhai characterized using a set of computational and statistical algorithms and analyses.

“The NBS-LRRs keep pathogens out, but these plant cells are still allowing beneficial microbes to enter,” says Sherrier. “The regulation of genes encoding NBS-LRR proteins has been largely unknown until now.”

Over time, these mechanisms have evolved into a more elaborate system in legumes to take advantage of this defense-suppressing system and facilitate the development of nodules, the specialized root structures of legumes in which the beneficial plant-microbe interactions take place.

“We may have found the ‘switch’ that recognizes good versus bad microbes,” adds Meyers, Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “These guard proteins usually trigger cell death when a pathogen is recognized, but the plant cell is triggering cell death when it encounters a ‘good’ microbe. The circuit we identified may play a role in preventing cell death when the microbe is a friend.”

This discovery could ultimately prove important to the improvement of plant-microbe interactions in other crop plants by allowing plants to become healthier by letting in the good microbes, but keeping the pathogens out.

“We didn’t expect to find something as exciting as this,” says Sherrier. “It’s exciting because no one knows about this kind of gene control and also because it is showing us the diverse interaction between plants and bacterium as well as plants and fungi that could help us develop better mechanisms in other plants, like Arabidopsis.”

“Beyond the applied significance, the finding that NBS-LRR genes are key targets opens up a new frontier for basic research,” says Green, Crawford H. Greenewalt Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

If this diverse regulation of beneficial microbes could be added to other crop plants, it could mean scientists could program the plants to grow stronger and taller with less water, and even fertilize themselves.

Article by Blake Meyers and Laura Crozier

Photos by Evan Krape and Kathy F. Atkinson

This article was originally published on UDaily

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UD wins $2.2 million grant for bioenergy research

November 9, 2011 under CANR News

Biofuels are fuels made from renewable resources, such as agricultural and forest products and byproducts. Unlike their non-renewable fossil fuel counterparts, such as oil, their increased usage has the potential to reduce pollution and U.S. dependence on foreign resources.

Their production, however, is problematic. Biofuels must be produced quickly and at high concentrations in order to make them economically feasible. Unfortunately, the process can be toxic to cells necessary in their manufacture.

Blake Meyers, Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, is part of a team at UD that is working to create hardy organisms for producing biofuels and chemicals from renewable sources – microorganisms that are more resistant to toxic chemicals and engineered to withstand the stress response that can inhibit cell growth and cause cell death.

Meyers will perform deep sequencing to help researchers understand the complexity of the transcriptome, which is the set of all RNA molecules.

To learn more about this research, visit UDaily

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High school students get a chance to explore CANR

November 2, 2011 under CANR News

Thirty high school students interested in studying food science, plant and soil science and poultry science at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) had a chance to take a closer look at those fields on Friday, Oct. 28, as part of the college’s Exploration Day.

The day started with a continental breakfast in the Townsend Hall Commons followed by a reception at which Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Kali Kniel, associate professor of animal and food sciences, welcomed the students to the college.

Meyers talked about how agriculture is one of the bright spots in the nation’s economy and highlighted key points about the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, such as the low student-to-faculty ratio, which allows for a wealth of opportunities for internships and research programs.

“Our department spans a wide range of interests from landscape design, which is more art and design influence, through to plant protection, environmental soil science and plant molecular biology, where we have a lot of researchers doing exciting cutting edge research on plant genomics. Today we have an opportunity to explore each of these areas and really see what we’re doing in the department,” said Meyers.

Kniel focused on those students who came to learn more about food and poultry science, saying, “I think that this is a really exciting time for us to be involved in agriculture, in particular with the production of food of all kinds. Food is important to us — how we grow food, how we produce food, how we do product development, how we want to produce healthy food and how we get food to people. We’re going to explore some of those things and you’re going to see how important and exciting agriculture is and how innovation is top of the line when it comes to product development.”

After a presentation on admissions and scholarships by Heidi Mulherin, UD admissions counselor, the students divided into three groups — one for students interested in food science, one for plant science and one for poultry science.

The food science students got to visit the UDairy Creamery in the morning, where they tried their hand at making ice cream and participated in an ice cream taste test. In the afternoon, they had lessons on topics such as food packaging and investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.

The plant and soil science students learned about suburban landscaping with Sue Barton, associate professor of plant and soil science, toured the Fischer Greenhouse and explored a plant cell with Janine Sherrier, professor of plant and soil sciences at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

As for the poultry science students, they spent time in Allen Laboratory doing a variety of activities that included hands-on tracheal swabs of chickens with Robert Alphin, an instructor in animal and food sciences and the manager of the Agricultural Experiment Center, and Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences. These students learned about gene sequencing, avian domestication and evolution, and how using an electroencephalogram can assist in monitoring animal welfare.

The three groups had lunch together in the Townsend Hall Commons before breaking off for panel discussions with current UD students and alumni from their respective areas of interest.

Kimberly Yackoski, assistant dean for student services at CANR, said, “One of the main goals of Exploration Day is to introduce curious, science-minded high school students to the exciting and innovative things going on in our college. This day truly offers the ‘student explorer’ a better understanding of the diverse disciplines within our programs of study.”

One alumnus who was particularly insightful was Matt Sullenberger, who graduated in 2010 and had gone through Exploration Day as a high school student both for plant and soil science and food science.

“I think the best thing about Exploration Day was the hands-on activities that we did with the actual professors,” Sullenberger said. “It was sort of mimicking the type of classes we would have when we got here. It got me really excited about the programs.”

Sullenberger said that Exploration Day helped him get his college career off to the right start and gave him more information about a subject he thought he wanted to study but didn’t know that much about. “One of the big reasons why I did the food science track was that I didn’t know much about food science until I visited Delaware. I participated in Exploration Day partly to learn more about that.”

As for students who participated in Exploration Day this year, Jim and Wesley Johnson, twin brothers who attend high school in New Jersey and are interested in plant and soil science, said that they found Exploration Day to be both fun and beneficial.

“I really enjoyed the suburban landscaping class and it was interesting to hear Sue Barton talk about how instead of having 95 percent of your lawn be lawn, you can have meadows and things like that. It was pretty interesting; I never really knew that,” said Jim Johnson.

Wesley Johnson said that he would recommend Exploration Day to any student interested in the college because you get to “meet the teachers and see what it’s like in the classrooms.”

Kara Kowalski, a senior from New York City who is interested in food science, said that she enjoyed making ice cream at the creamery. “Our flavor was cake batter with chocolate covered pretzels and a graham cracker swirl.”

Kowalski said she liked “the sensory technology part of it, so I really liked the hands-on stuff, like smelling and tasting different flavors. We did a lot of that in the creamery, so that was really cool.”

The students who attended this year’s Exploration Day walked away with a new understanding of how fun and exciting learning can be at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily > >

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Awokuse named chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics

September 1, 2011 under CANR News

Titus Awokuse, professor of food and resource economics and professor of economics, has been named chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics (FREC) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources effective Sept. 1. As chair, Awokuse will have administrative oversight for research and teaching activities of the faculty, staff, and students and have responsibility for leading department-wide initiatives and day-to-day management of the department’s academic programs and personnel affairs.

Awokuse will succeed Thomas Ilvento, professor of food and resource economics, and he noted that Ilvento has been a great help to him as he prepares for his new role.

“The outgoing chair, Thomas Ilvento, has been extremely helpful in showing me the ropes and helping to achieve a smooth transition. He has been incredible,” Awokuse said. He also mentioned Blake Meyers, Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, as being a great help in getting him prepared to chair the department.

Robin Morgan, dean of CANR, said of the appointment, “Titus Awokuse is an exceptionally talented scholar and teacher, and UD is very fortunate that he will lead the Food and Resource Economics Department going forward. Under Awokuse’s leadership, I look forward to seeing the department’s bold plans and bright future unfold.”

After earning a bachelor of science degree in economics from Berea College, Awokuse went on to get his master’s in economics from Murray State University and his doctorate in agricultural and applied economics from Texas A & M University.

Awokuse joined the department in August 2000, and he said that he looks forward to the challenge of being chair of FREC and stressed that he hopes the position will allow him to collaborate with his fellow departmental colleagues and staff as FREC continues to move in a positive direction.

“My philosophy is that being the chair of a department is not like being the leader of a business venture. This is more of a group effort. The chair should be a visionary and facilitator who works collaboratively with others to achieve set goals and objectives of the unit. So it should not be just the chair doing all the work. An effective leader must respect and genuinely care for people’s needs, be an active listener, set clear goals and priorities, and share the load by delegating responsibilities to others. It’s basically trying to get the group to work more cohesively so everybody has a role to play.”

Awokuse said that one of his goals as department chair is to make FREC more competitive in terms of research, teaching and outreach on both a national and international level. “I want us to have stronger visibility nationally and internationally. We have some excellent faculty doing great work and we need to showcase that more, we want to continue to attract strong students for both our undergraduate and graduate programs.”

He also wants to increase FREC’s interactions and partnerships with other departments and colleges within the University. “We have worked really well with other departments on campus, and we want to strengthen those linkages and continue to do that.”

Another subject that Awokuse feels passionate about is leading by example. He hopes to remain active in research even with his new responsibilities as department chair.

“Although the administrative demands of being chair will be time consuming, I still intend to carve out quality time to engage in my research work and mentoring graduate students.”

Awokuse conducts empirical research on policy issues related to the economics of international trade and investment, economic growth and international development, agricultural markets and food security. He recently served as the editor, with Joshua M. Duke, for a national peer-reviewed journal, Agricultural and Resource Economics Review. He also co-authored a project report titled “The Impact of Agriculture on Delaware’s Economy,” with Thomas Ilvento and Zachary Johnston, which cited Delaware’s agricultural economic impact to be roughly $8 billion, much higher than the previously reported figure of $1 billion.

Awokuse said that he is humbled by the opportunity to chair the department.

“I thank Dean Robin Morgan for providing me with the opportunity to serve and I’m looking forward to working with the faculty and students and taking the Department of Food and Resource Economics to the next stage of its growth and development.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Wisser and Meyers establish connections with African Institutions

August 16, 2011 under CANR News

Researchers from the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) visited Ghana earlier this summer to meet with plant breeders and discuss the development of a software package they are calling “The Breeders’ Toolbox.” Since 2009, a team of researchers have been fleshing out ideas, assessing demand, and identifying partners for the production of an integrated suite of software tools tailored to the meet the needs of plant breeders in developing countries.

Randy Wisser, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who serves as the group’s principal investigator, and Blake Meyers, Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, traveled to Ghana in June. They were joined by co-investigator Stefan Einarson, Director of Transnational Learning from Cornell University.

Other UD group members include Lori Pollock, professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, and Jong-Soo Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

During their visits to Ghana in October 2010 and June 2011, team members established important connections with representatives of plant breeding educational and research institutes and got feedback on the proposed software, which would help improve yields of a wide range of crops. “Plant breeders are key players in the fight for food security. Breeders produce the varities grown by practically all farmers; empowering breeders with efficient tools can have a widespread impact,” explained Wisser.

The team established collaborative relations with the West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI) located in Accra, Ghana. WACCI trains many students, offering doctoral degrees in plant breeding, and Wisser added, “We’re partnering with them because the students going there are the future plant breeders of Africa. They are the end-users of the tools we develop.”

Wisser also noted that the students attending WACCI are from all over Africa, so they represent different cultures and have had different experiences in their home countries. This gives the team the opportunity to develop tools with greater awareness of the various needs across Africa so that they are more likely to be widely adopted.

Another key partnership is with breeders at Crops Research Institute (CRI), located in Kumasi, Ghana, which is the epicenter of plant breeding in Ghana. Wisser noted that making the connection with CRI-Kumasi is important because “many of the countries breeders who specialize on different crops are stationed at one location, and that’s important for us because we are trying to develop a tool that can work for any crop.”

Wisser explained that current software at the disposal of plant breeders is not designed for plant breeding. The Breeders Toolbox the research team is seeking support to develop will be open-source and very flexible. It would simplify the design and analysis of field experiments in a more user-friendly platform for plant breeders of various skill levels.

Travel to Africa was made possible through funding from UD’s International Research Office, CANR, and the departments of Food and Resource Economics, Plant and Soil Sciences, and the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD’s Meyers receives NSF grant to study genetic impact of corn mutation

July 19, 2011 under CANR News

In an attempt to understand the genetic impact of a mutation in corn that turns the crop orange and stunts growth, researchers from the University of Delaware and Penn State University have received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Leading the UD team is Blake Meyers, Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The researchers are studying a mutation known as unstable factor for orange1, or Ufo1, which not only impacts the color of the corn, turning the ears from the standard yellow to an orange hue, but has more severe impacts ranging from stunted growth to “whiplash,” a growth defect in which the corn stalk is bent backwards towards the ground.

One important aim of the project is the basic research to understand how gene silencing functions and how it can impact different cellular pathways. This mutant is of interest because it has an “epigenetic” effect on other genes, meaning that Ufo1 produces inherited states in other genes that are caused not by altered nucleotides in the DNA, but by reversible modifications of the DNA.

The research on Ufo1 is being conducted on two fronts, with Surinder Chopra, associate professor of maize genetics at Penn State, working to identify the specific gene that is the Ufo1 mutation and Meyers trying to understand the genetic and genomic impacts of that mutation.

“Basically one gene is altering the expression of many other genes through some sort of epigenetic modification,” Meyers said. “I’m trying to understand, in a global genomic context, what is the impact of this mutation.”

Meyers said he hopes for a happy convergence of the projects, with Chopra pinpointing the gene and Meyers identifying all of the genes or regions of the genome that are showing epigenetic alterations.

“Then we’d like to connect those back to the phenotypic differences that we observe in this mutant,” Meyers said. “There are lots of different effects that are a consequence of this mutation — it’s not just color — and we’d like to understand which genes are causing those phenotypic differences and why those genes are the subject of regulation by this Ufo1 gene.”

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Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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