Charter student completes research in Seyfferth’s lab

February 19, 2014 under CANR News

charter student completes research in Angelia Seyfferth's labWhen Rohith Venkataraman, a junior who attends the Charter School of Wilmington, decided to search for research being conducted by University of Delaware professors, he did not know what he would find. By chance, he came across Angelia Seyfferth’s research and sent her an e-mail asking if he could help out in her lab.

Now, about a year since that e-mail was sent, not only has Venkataraman completed his research with Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Gang Li, a postdoctoral researcher in Seyfferth’s lab, but that research helped him place first in the plant science section of his school’s science fair. He will now be presenting his research project at the 19th annual Delaware Technical Community College Science Expo in February.

“It’s safe to say that email was a great decision,” said Venkataraman. “Dr. Seyfferth has been encouraging and helpful right from the get go and I have had a wonderful research experience under her guidance and Dr. Li’s tutelage.”

The research began last summer when Venkataraman worked with Seyfferth and Li on a plant science project dealing with the arsenic uptake mechanism in rice plants. Venkataraman said that Seyfferth’s previous work suggested that one can decrease the amount of arsenic assimilated by a plant if one adds silicic acid to the growth media of rice plants.

“This promising research could lead to new ways of growing rice in areas with high arsenic contents in the soil,” said Venkataraman. “As a means to confirm literature and test our own variables, we designed and grew plants over a period of 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 9 weeks. The plants were then flash frozen and stored in a freezer for further RNA analysis of oxidative stress genes and total arsenic content analysis.”

Venkataraman said that the procedure for extracting RNA and analysis was “quite complex. There were many steps each requiring careful attention to details. The procedure required adding small quantities of many solutions and centrifuging the tissue numerous times.”

As for his favorite part of the project, Venkataraman explained that he enjoyed assisting Li with changing the nutrient solutions for the plants and assisting with the liquid nitrogen flash freezing.

“The attributes of chemicals and their properties have always amazed me,” said Venkataraman. “I have always looked forward to Dr. Seyfferth’s insight on scientific aspects of the research, which she has enthusiastically shared with me. Dr. Li has guided and explained about various processes that we were working on. Both of them have expanded my horizon of knowledge and made my experience at the lab and research something that I have looked forward to.”

Seyfferth said that she was “impressed by Rohith’s questions and scientific inquisitiveness, he is a highly motivated young student.” Seyfferth added that she is “eager to continue providing research opportunities for high school students across Delaware.”

As for his plans for after high school, Venkataraman said that he is not sure what he wants to do yet but that he is exploring studying molecular biology along with a pre-med track.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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UD’s Ernest receives USDA grant for research on lima beans

December 11, 2013 under CANR News

Emmalea Ernest Research Assistant for Vegetable crops. Plant and Soil Science, Cooperative ExtensionEmmalea Ernest, extension agent in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), has received federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program for a project aimed at developing heat-tolerant lima bean varieties.

“Lima beans are Delaware’s largest acreage vegetable crop and anchor the state’s processing vegetable industry,” said Ernest. “The varieties that are currently available to growers suffer yield loss or delayed yield when they are exposed to high temperatures during flowering.”

In order to be eligible for funding from the program, grant money had to be used toward specialty crops as opposed to field crops, such as corn and soybeans, or animal agriculture. Specialty crops are a wide-ranging category that includes fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops.

With her funding, Ernest aims to develop procedures for heat tolerance screening in the existing lima bean breeding program, examine the physiological mechanisms for heat stress tolerance or susceptibility in lima beans, and investigate the underlying genetic basis for heat stress tolerance in lima beans. Her findings could greatly impact Delaware vegetable farmers’ yields.

Ernest said she has collaborated on multiple USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants in the past six years and acknowledged that the program has been a vital source of funding to the Extension Vegetable and Fruit Research Program. The money has allowed Ernest to help address production problems many Delaware fruit and vegetable growers have experienced, as well as explore new crop prospects.

The SCBG program seeks out projects like Ernest’s in order to promote and enhance the local agricultural economy.

“My past and current grant projects through this program have included work on lima beans but also on a variety of other crops, including processing sweet corn, blueberries, snap beans, cucumbers and cantaloupes,” said Ernest.

Her research with lima beans will be over the course of the next three years and take place on UD’s research farm in Georgetown.

Ernest said that in the genetics portion of the project, which will be built off of work funded by the Building a Better Bean SCRI Grant awarded to UD researchers last year, she will be working closely with colleague Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, and Gordon Johnson, extension vegetable and fruit specialist.

Article by Angela Carcione

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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NASA funds UD-led research on carbon dynamics in Mexico

October 8, 2013 under CANR News

Rodrgio Vargas works with NASA on REDD+ activitiesWorking with a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant, University of Delaware researcher Rodrigo Vargas is collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service and multiple institutions in Mexico to provide information to support implementation of the international program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) by improving forest management, carbon stock enhancement and conservation.

It has been estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation around the world may contribute up to 20 percent of global emissions. A key REDD+ goal is to make forests more valuable standing than they would be through logging by creating a financial value for carbon that is stored, or sequestered, in vegetation.

Vargas, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesDepartment of Plant and Soil Sciences, is working as the principal investigator on the three-year project with a team that includes members from UD, the U.S. Forest Service, six different Mexican institutions and the National Forestry Commission of Mexico (CONAFOR).

The overarching goal of the project is to analyze carbon stocks and dynamics from ecosystems to the regional-scale to improve a framework for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) to support implementation of REDD+ in Mexican forests.

The project could lead to UD becoming a key research institution on REDD+ initiatives and an important repository of information about carbon dynamics in Mexico to be made available throughout the scientific community.

The work builds on research that Vargas started as an assistant professor at a national research center in Baja California, Mexico, where he worked with scientists to establish the Mexican network of eddy covariance sites (MexFlux). The eddy covariance technique allows measuring the exchange of mass (e.g., carbon dioxide and methane) and energy between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere; in other words it is possible to measure how ecosystems “breathe”.

In that past work, Vargas was able to facilitate collaboration between a network of 11 eddy covariance sites across Mexico in different vegetation types.

“Some of them are in forests and in those specific sites, we want to create intensive monitoring sites in collaboration with the participating institutions,” said Vargas, explaining that those intensive monitoring sites would provide the research team fundamental information of how the forests are growing and breathing.

The research will consider data from NASA satellites, the MexFlux sites, as well as intensive forest inventory plots that CONAFOR has established, for information on MRV of REDD+ activities.

“REDD+ is an initiative for the reduction of emissions by deforestation and degradation and includes conservation and sustainable management of forests and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries,” Vargas said, and the MRV models are important as they lend credibility to REDD+ activities concerning forest dynamics and carbon sequestration potential.”

Many nations would be interested in being a part of REDD+ activities so monitoring systems towards credible measurements are critical if they are going to implement the program — which is where the MRV models come in.

Providing important assistance to the project is Richard Birdsey, distinguished scientist with the U.S. Forest Service. Birdsey is a specialist in quantitative methods for large-scale forest inventories and has pioneered the development of methods to estimate national carbon budgets for forest lands from forest inventory data.

“He has led the establishment of several intensive monitoring sites in Mexico and has coordinated a USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) program there which aims to improve monitoring of forests for REDD+ and biodiversity conservation, among other objectives,” Vargas said.

The group will be using capabilities from NASA’s carbon monitoring systems program and Vargas said the agency is very interested to test those capabilities in verifying these specific issues.

IMG_4295The research team will be using information from NASA satellites, which can provide data related to photosynthesis of forests. “Remote sensing platforms provide such information and we can validate and cross-validate those estimates from direct forest measurements and using ecosystem process based models,” Vargas said.

The team will start the research looking at a few specific sites that had already been selected by CONAFOR, and then hope to scale the research to encompass a gradient of forests across Mexico.

Vargas said that the project has a strong collaborative component with scientists across Mexican institutions. “Our collaborators know their sites and are critical partners for day-to-day activities at the study sites. In collaboration with them we will work to produce value-added products and synthesis studies about carbon dynamics across forests in Mexico,” Vargas said.

Working in Mexico provides a great opportunity to look at different types of ecosystems and gradients. Mexico is a mega-diverse country where nearly 40 percent of its territory is covered by forests. The long-term impacts of land use and anthropogenic changes have fragmented and fundamentally transformed the nation’s landscapes, creating a challenge to measure and estimate the carbon sequestration potential of these forests.

“It is a mega-diverse country and highly heterogeneous in terms of climates and ecosystems. If you go to the northern part of Mexico, there you will have arid and semi-arid ecosystems similar to the southwest of the United States — like in Arizona, Texas and southern California,” Vargas said. “But as you move south, then you have coniferous forests, tropical dry forests and tropical wet forests mixed within a matrix of agricultural and urban developments.”

Vargas said that the spatial heterogeneity proves challenging as it pushes the models and the satellite observations to the limit. “We can’t measure everywhere all the time but we can identify some ecosystems and some sites from which we can get intensive information, and from that we hope to upscale to similar sites — specifically in this case to identify potential for REDD+ activities and verify the information retrieved from satellites and predicted by models.”

Because of the wealth of information available, Vargas said the team can “ask very high level questions about carbon dynamics in Mexico. Hopefully with that information we can understand how the systems works with the goal that similar methodologies can be applied in other places. Mexico is a test bed but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be applied in other places, specifically across forest in Latin America for implementation of REDD+ initiatives.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley and courtesy of Rodrigo Vargas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Barton named Vice President of ASHS

August 13, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Sue Barton named Vice President ASHSSue Barton, extension specialist and an associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has been named the Extension Division Vice President for the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS).

ASHS is the main organization of professional horticulturalists and includes members from industry, academia and extension.

The term for Vice President will begin in August and Barton will serve for 3 years.

Barton has been with the organization since she was a graduate student in the 1980’s and she also serves as an associate editor for one of their publications.

“I have been working with ASHS in that capacity for a long time,” said Barton. “But this will give me an opportunity to get to know the inner workings of the organization a little better and hopefully provide some service to other extension professionals who are involved.”

Barton said that another reason she wanted to get involved was to raise the national presence of the University of Delaware.

“I think it’s good for the University when faculty take national roles so I felt like it was also my responsibility once I was asked to do it, to fulfill this for UD in addition to doing it for horticulturalists in general.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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Global symposium held at UD leads to publication of nutrient management papers

August 12, 2013 under CANR News

Nutrient Management symposiumTom Sims, professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, recently served as the guest editor for a special collection of papers for the Journal of Environmental Quality (JEQ) titled “Nutrient Management Challenges and Progress in China.”

The collection is the result of work completed after leading researchers from China attended the Global Issues in Nutrient Management: Science, Technology and Policy symposium hosted by UD in 2011.

The symposium was co-sponsored by UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the University of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Environmental Institute, China Agricultural University, Wageningen University and UD’s Institute for Global Studies.

The goal of the symposium was to foster global discussions on nutrient management-related research and policy issues pertaining to the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population while protecting environmental resources.

“After the conference, a number of scientists from China who attended were quite interested in publishing their findings in a major international journal,” said Sims. “I approached the editor of the Journal of Environmental Quality and asked if he would be interested in a special collection of papers that could be published as a group and focus on the topics that were covered at this conference, specifically about the agri-environmental situation in China.”

The special collection for the JEQ featured six papers in all, two co-authored by Sims and the rest authored by scholars from China and Europe who attended the symposium.

The papers included:

  • “Advances and Challenges for Nutrient Management in China in the 21st Century” by J.T. Sims, L. Ma, O. Oenema, Z. Dou and F.S. Zhang;
  • “An Analysis of Developments and Challenges in Nutrient Management in China” by L. Ma, W.F. Zhang, W.Q. Ma, G.L. Velthof, O. Oenema and F. S. Zhang;
  • “The Driving Forces for Nitrogen and Phosphorus Flows in the Food Chain of China, 1980 to 2010” by Y. Hou, L. Ma, Z.L. Gao, F.H. Wang, J.T. Sims, W.Q. Ma and F.S. Zhang;
  • “An Analysis of China’s Fertilizer Policies: Impacts on the Industry, Food Security, and the Environment” by Yuxuan Li, Weifeng Zhang, Lin Ma, Gaoqiang Huang, Oene Oenema, Fusuo Zhang and Zhengxia Dou;
  • “Phosphorus in China’s Intensive Vegetable Production Systems: Overfertilization, Soil Enrichment, and Environmental Implications” by Zhengjuan Yan, Pengpeng Liu, Yuhong Li, Lin Ma, Ashok Alva, Zhengxia Dou, Qing Chen and Fusuo Zhang; and
  • “Nitrogen and Phosphorus Use Efficiencies in Dairy Production in China” by Z.H. Bai, L. Ma, O. Oenema, Q. Chen and F.S. Zhang.

The papers represent the latest in an ongoing collaboration between CANR and China Agricultural University (CAU) that dates back to 2008, when Sims was invited to make a keynote presentation at the Second International Nutrient Management Workshop, held in Shijiazhuang, China.

At that time, Sims said, “At CANR, our nutrient management efforts have been recognized globally. By using our years of research and extension experience on nutrient management in Delaware, we hope to put China’s researchers in a better position to solve their agri-environmental problems.”

Since then, the relationship between CANR and CAU has grown.

In 2009, CANR signed a general agreement with CAU and also formalized, in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania, a memorandum of understanding with the CAU College of Resources and Environmental Sciences (CRES).

This memorandum outlined a range of joint research and academic activities between UD, UPenn and CAU.  It led to the initiation of a variety of collaborative activities and supported multiple trips to CAU by CANR faculty.

CANR also hosted a CAU delegation, sponsored a symposium by leading CAU scientists at the 2009 international meetings of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America, and hosted four young CAU scientists — one for 18 months — to discuss and design joint research projects.

A “3+2” master of science degree program between CANR and CRES has been discussed that would allow CAU students to complete their undergraduate degree in three years at CAU then enter a two-year master of science degree program at UD, receiving two degrees in a five-year period.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Mark Isaacs receives John Warren Award

July 23, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Award-Mark Isaacs_John_Warren_AwardA staff picnic at the University of Delaware Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown on July 16 included a surprise announcement for the center’s director, Mark Isaacs. Tom LaPenta, interim associate vice president for human resources at UD, recognized Isaacs with the John Warren Excellence in Leadership and Service Award.

The award recognizes significant accomplishments and notable contributions in leadership by University supervisory staff. The award includes a $1,000 gift.

“I am very proud to name Dr. Mark Isaacs for this award,” LaPenta said. “In my decades here, I have seen how Mark leads with respect and dignity. I can say that there are very few natural leaders, and Mark deserves special distinction. His passion for the mission of the University has motivated the highly skilled staff of the Carvel Center.”

LaPenta quoted from the three nominations letters submitted as a requirement for the award. These letters acknowledged Isaacs’ passion for agriculture and his extraordinary and visionary leadership.

One of the nomination letters read, in part, “He is a remarkable relationship builder and an astute financial manager during very challenging times. Mark leads with a clear sense of direction and purpose.”

The award was a surprise for Isaacs who was at the Carvel staff picnic with approximately 70 full- and part-time staff present. Isaacs received a standing ovation from his colleagues and staff.

“I am honored to accept this,” Isaacs said. “It is a very big surprise. I could not lead without a great group of people to work with.”

Isaacs has been director for the Carvel Research and Education Center since 1992. The Carvel Center serves as the southern campus for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, where Isaacs is also an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Its 344-acre campus is an agricultural experiment station and home for Sussex County Cooperative Extension and the Lasher Laboratory, a poultry diagnostic center. In 2012, the farm was renamed the Thurman Adams Jr. Agricultural Research Farm in honor of the late Delaware state senator. Isaacs close relationship with Adams helped to foster key support in state funding for the facility’s growth and success in the community.

The Warren Award was established by the University in 2011 to recognized significant accomplishments by supervisory staff in the areas of leadership and service.

A second Warren Award for 2013 will be announced in September.

Article by Michele Walfred

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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3 CANR professors awarded UDRF projects

July 17, 2013 under CANR News

Jeff Buler studies ticks across newark, delawareDelaware has one of the highest incidence rates of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The tick-borne disease can have debilitating consequences in humans, dogs, even cats.

University of Delaware scientist Jeffrey Buler aims to see the number of infections decline.

“In urban areas, humans face the greatest exposure to infected ticks along forest edges,” says Buler, who is an assistant professor of wildlife ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

With funding from the University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF), Buler will use radio telemetry to track bird movements in a network of 21 fragmented patches of forest in and around Newark, Del. He wants to better understand the role that birds may play in dispersing ticks in these forested areas.

UDRF, a private corporation chartered in 1955, awards seed funding on a competitive basis to researchers early in their careers at UD.

“The University of Delaware Research Foundation is tremendously valuable to our research community, particularly in these times of federal funding austerity,” says Charlie Riordan, UD vice provost for research. “These seed funds are critical for our new faculty to collect the preliminary data necessary to establish proof of concept and convince the funding agencies their ideas are worth further investment.”

A holistic approach to reduce tick-borne diseases in an urban landscape. Wildlife ecologist Jeff Buler and doctoral student Solny Adalsteinsson will study bird movements in 21 forest fragments in and around Newark, Del., to better understand how birds influence tick survival and distribution. This project will contribute to the development of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy to manage ticks that spread Lyme disease.

Impact of land-use activities on pollinators. Deborah Delaney, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, will survey pollinator communities in northern Delaware to determine pesticide exposure levels in spring-summer 2013 and 2014 during the bloom periods for many trees and shrubs. Exposure risk will be linked with land-use activities such as agriculture, suburban lawns and gardens, roads, parking lots and other impervious surfaces.

Exploring plant immortality. Although climate-induced stress has caused plant mortalities worldwide, some plants native to the Baja desert can live over 500 years. Rodrigo Vargas Ramos, assistant professor of plant and soil science, will conduct experiments to understand the physiological mechanisms of resilience of long-lived plants in arid ecosystems, with special emphasis on carbon allocation.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Danielle Quigley

To read about the rest of the UDRF projects, check out the full article on UDaily.

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UD class displays project at Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts

June 5, 2013 under CANR News

students at UD have a display at DCCA looking at water pollution in the Brandywine RiverWhen students in an interdisciplinary class at the University of Delaware set up a “Who’s Downstream” exhibit at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DCCA), they wanted to show the path that stormwater takes through urban and industrial areas — specifically how the Brandywine River flows through the city of Wilmington — and also find out what the city’s residents know about their drinking water and how concerned they are about its quality.

The “Who’s Downstream: An Exploration of the Impact of Urban Water Runoff” project is on display as part of the imPERFECT City exhibit at the DCCA, with a reception scheduled Saturday, June 8.

The UD class is led by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Jon Cox, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Art, and Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration. It engages students in several real-world projects as a way of learning design processes and enhancing innovation.

Cox explained that the class began the project by visiting the Brandywine Conservancy and got information as to the health of the Brandywine River, which is the source of Wilmington’s drinking water. It was there that they realized that a lot of the pollutants found in the river were occurring upstream from Wilmington but that the city was spending money to rid its drinking water of those pollutants.

The exhibit is part video and part display, as a large wall map uses different water samples to show how the quality of water varies at different parts of the river, getting progressively worse as it flows toward the city.

“Students worked in small teams to create different aspects of the exhibit,” said Bruck. “It was a significant project because the results of their efforts are on display for well over a month at DCCA. I consistently find that class projects with real-world results motivate students to higher levels of achievement.”

For the video portion, Cox said, “The students went and interviewed some residents in Wilmington. They basically just took a walk in Brandywine Park, going up and down and talking to some of the different local residents and getting ideas of how people are using the Brandywine. They have some shots of people fishing, some shots of people walking around, kids playing in the river.

“They also asked people if they knew where their water came from. And some of them said, ‘No. I hope it doesn’t come from there,’” as they pointed to the river.

The video also includes an aerial shot of the Brandywine taken by attaching a camera to a suction cup on the bottom of a small airplane.

In addition to the exhibit, the students are encouraging people to make a difference in the community. “Students are asking the public to take some sort of action and pledge to use less fertilizer, use less water, plant a tree, or sign our petition to pass legislation to help keep the Brandywine clean,” said Cox.

Kyle Gordon, a senior landscape horticulture major with a concentration in landscape design, said that he did not know that the Brandywine was the main source of drinking water for Wilmington before working on the project. He said he learned a lot about runoff because of the project, especially that “when we dump loads of fertilizer on our landscapes, it typically doesn’t have a chance to penetrate the soils. It gets collected in the rain water and that washes into our streams and causes eutrophication problems that can kill off wildlife.”

Gordon said his favorite part of the project was “finding out a lot of information about our source of water because I think that really has a big impact on people’s psyche when you hear what goes into our water and how it is adversely affecting it.”

Christine Stallone, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who worked as the project manager, said it was a great experience. “Working with the DCCA was a really wonderful opportunity but alongside that, it’s a huge responsibility knowing that student work is going to be exhibited in a space that is usually held for professional artists and other members like that.”

Stallone added she enjoyed working on a project that would benefit local communities. “I think working with the Brandywine and working in Wilmington, we’re able to help tie this back to our local environment and to recognize what we can do and what we should be doing as a way of education as well as execution in this task, and that’s what we were trying to acknowledge throughout this exhibition.”

For more information about the imPERFECT city exhibit, visit the DCCA website.

To view the video that the class made for the project, click here.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Jaisi laboratory tracks chemicals in water, farmland throughout Mid-Atlantic

February 27, 2013 under CANR News

Deb Jaisi studies phosphorus in his labUniversity of Delaware researcher Deb Jaisi is using his newly established stable isotope facility in the Environmental Biogeochemistry Laboratory (EBL) to find the fingerprints of isotopes in chemical elements — specifically phosphorus — in order to track sources of nutrients in the environmentally-sensitive Chesapeake Bay, other bodies of water and farmland throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Jaisi, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, explained that he and his research team are currently working on many projects in the EBL, including two that are funded through seed grants, one focusing on terrestrial phosphorus sources and the other on marine phosphorus sources in the Chesapeake. One of those grants is from the UD Research Foundation (UDRF) and is titled “Role of Non-terrestrial Phosphorus Sources in Eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay.”

For the project, Jaisi and his team of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers are looking at different sources of phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay over time. Working with Old Dominion University, the team has been provided sediment core samples taken from bay that spans several decades of sediment accumulation and is extracting the phosphorus from those sediments and measuring the isotopic composition of phosphate.

Jaisi explained that they do this in order to identify the sources of phosphorus and see how those specific sources have changed over time in the bay, which could be important information in seeking to understand their impact on the water quality in the bay.

Jaisi said that it is important to study phosphorus because it “is one of the most important nutrients for any living being. In most cases, this is a limiting nutrient and what that means is that it controls the growth or how much life you can have out of that nutrient.”

Jaisi continued, saying, “DNA and RNA are made of phosphorus backbone — so our bones are made of phosphorus, our teeth are made of phosphorus. You can name every part of the body and it has phosphorus, and the same is true for any other living being.”

While phosphorus is important to life, too much phosphorus — particularly in bodies of water — can cause serious ecological problems, leading to algae blooms and oxygen deficiency.

 

 

Jaisi’s group also has a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to compare the phosphorus plants take up to the phosphorus that is present in fertilizers, while also tracking any excess fertilizer that is used by growers to see where that fertilizer goes.

For farmers or homeowners applying phosphorus-rich fertilizer, Jaisi said it is not clear how much phosphorus from fertilizer is being taken up by plants. “We don’t explicitly understand how much phosphorus is needed or where the phosphorus ends up,” he said, adding that a phosphate oxygen isotope fingerprint tool can provide a more detailed picture. “We hope to provide a better resolution of phosphorus fate – that this phosphorus fraction leaked out of the soil and went to the ground or surface water, and this fraction is taken up by plants.”

The researchers are also looking at how rivers carry phosphorus and how far they can trace certain sources of phosphorus in a river. This research is being done in Maryland, and Jaisi explained that the group is looking at how phosphorus is leached out of soil and carried into creeks and rivers. “We are taking samples along a creek and in sediments to see how far the phosphorus can go. Does it retain somewhere in the river, or is it exported to the Chesapeake Bay?”

Isotope fingerprinting

To find the fingerprints of isotopes, Jaisi uses a machine known as a stable Isotope-Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS).

Jaisi said that because “different sources may have different isotopic composition,” if he and his research team can figure out an element’s isotopic composition, they can identify how that element has impacted the environment.

“For example, if the phosphate is originating from a wastewater plant, that is one isotopic composition or one type of fingerprint. Then, compare that fingerprint to what comes out of the fertilizers, and to what comes out of soil erosion from the geological processes — that kind of phosphate has other isotopic compositions.”

The currently installed IRMS has three different components, each capable of measuring a specialized element. One is used for phosphate oxygen isotopes, one for carbon and nitrogen isotopes and one for water and carbonates. The three machines feed into the mass spectrometer via a synchronizing unit called ConFlow.

Jaisi said that such machines used to measure phosphate oxygen isotopes are not very common, with only a handful worldwide.

Although his group mainly focuses on phosphorus, the EBL and the equipment is available to other researchers at the University and outside, and can be used to measure for stable isotopes of nitrogen, carbon, sulfur and other light elements.

For more information on Jaisi’s lab, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

Video by Adam Thomas and Danielle Quigley

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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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