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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Soil may harbor answer to reducing arsenic in rice

May 1, 2013 under CANR News

Drs. Harsh Bias & Janine Sherrier work together with bacteria resistant rice plants at the Greenhouse.Harsh Bais and Janine Sherrier of the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences are studying whether a naturally occurring soil bacterium, referred to as UD1023 because it was first characterized at the University, can create an iron barrier in rice roots that reduces arsenic uptake.

Rice, grown as a staple food for a large portion of the world’s population, absorbs arsenic from the environment and transfers it to the grain. Arsenic is classified as a poison by the National Institutes of Health and is considered a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program.

Long-term exposure to arsenic has been associated with skin, lung, bladder, liver, kidney and prostate cancers, and low levels can cause skin lesions, diarrhea and other symptoms.

The risks of arsenic in rice were recently highlighted in the national press, when arsenic was detected in baby foods made from rice. In regions of the world where rice is the major component of the human diet, the health of entire communities of people can be negatively impacted by arsenic contamination of rice.

Arsenic may occur naturally in the soil, as it does in many parts of Southeast Asia, or it may be a result of environmental contamination. Despite the health risks arsenic in rice poses to millions of people around the world, there are currently no effective agricultural methods in use to reduce arsenic levels.

Sherrier, professor, and Bais, associate professor, are investigating whether UD1023 — which is naturally found in the rhizosphere, the layer of soil and microbes adjacent to rice roots — can be used to block the arsenic uptake. Bais first identified the bacterial species in soil samples taken from rice fields in California.

The pair’s preliminary research has shown that UD1023 can mobilize iron from the soil and slow arsenic uptake in rice roots, but the researchers have not yet determined exactly how this process works and whether it will lead to reduced levels of arsenic in rice grains.

“We have a bacterium that moves iron, and we want to see if creating an iron shield around the rice roots will slow arsenic movement into other parts of the plant,” Bais said.

Sherrier and Bais, who received a 2012 seed grant for the project from Delaware’s National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), ultimately want to determine how UD1023 slows arsenic movement into rice roots and whether it will lead to reduced levels of arsenic in the rice grains, the edible portion of the plant.

“That is the most important part,” Bais said. “We don’t know yet whether we can reduce arsenic in the grains or reduce the upward movement of arsenic towards the grain, but we’re optimistic.”

Bais says that, if successful, the project could lead to practical applications in agriculture.

“The implications could be tremendous,” he said. “Coating seeds with bacteria is very easy. With this bacteria, you could implement easy, low-cost strategies that farmers could use that would reduce arsenic in the human food chain.”

Article by Juan C. Guerrero

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Rose Rosette Disease Summit

April 18, 2013 under CANR News
Pictured from left to right: Steve Hutton, Michael Dobres  Kathleen Case, and Thomas Bewick

Summit participants pictured from left to right: Steve Hutton, Michael Dobres
Kathleen Case, and Thomas Bewick

A two-day national Rose Rosette Disease Summit was held April 15-16 in Newark with researchers from across the country meeting to discuss the disease and plans for future research.

Rose rosette disease (RRD) is caused by the rose rosette virus, carried by a tiny eriophyid mite.

The summit was organized by Tom Evans, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, and Michael Dobres of the Conard-Pyle Company, and sponsored by the All-America Rose Selections and the Garden Rose Council, Inc.

The conference included a talk given by Nancy Gregory, of UD’s Cooperative Extension, on occurrence and mapping of the disease. RRD has been seen in Mid-Atlantic States since approximately 2001, originally observed on multiflora rose in the landscape. In recent years, RRD has been identified on cultivated roses, including Knockout rose, and has also been identified in public gardens.

University scientists, plant breeders, Cooperative Extension personnel, USDA representatives, private consultants, and rose growers discussed the need for good diagnostic tools, accurate mapping, cultural controls, as well as breeding for resistance. Current control strategies include keeping roses in good vigor, pruning, mite control, and cultural controls such as reducing water on leaves.

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UD students, professors create display for Philadelphia Flower Show

March 5, 2013 under CANR News

“You are brilliant and you can design your own garden.” That is the message that professors and students from the University of Delaware want observers to take away from looking at their display, which is on view and received a “Special Achievement” award at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show.

“We’re going to teach people how they can design their own back yard space because we’re all brilliant,” said Jon Cox, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Art. “They just have to figure out what their interests are and how they can design their space for their needs.”

2013 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibitCox is teaching a class — with Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration – that has worked on the UD display.

This year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which runs from March 2-10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, has a British theme titled “Brilliant.”

Led by the professors, an interdisciplinary group of 17 UD students in plant science, leadership and art have been working on the University’s project, designed to tie in to the overall theme and titled “You Are Brilliant.”

The class is aimed at teaching the students about the design process and showing them how to work together to design a garden suited to a client’s needs.

However, the overall project began last summer and has required students to engages and tackle various facets of the project. “The leadership major emphasizes creativity, innovative problem-solving and collaboration,” Middlebrooks said. “This project offers students so many opportunities to build their creativity and develop their leadership.”

“I think the biggest take away for all of us is how collaborative landscape design is,” said Bruck. “Most of the time, landscape designers work in a vacuum — ‘I’m the creative genius and I’m going to sit at my drafting table and it’s going to be my endeavor with input from the client.’ But this is like what happens when you get lots of people from lots of different majors, backgrounds, interests and experiences working together on a design challenge. It just ramps everything up. Everything gets better, more creative and more interesting.”

One of the students who is helping out the class is Emma Brown, a freshman majoring in landscape horticulture and design. Brown said that the process has been incredible, as helping out with a project for the Philadelphia Flower Show has been something that she has wanted to do for a while.

“I’ve been to the flower show before and when I came here, it wasn’t one of the things mentioned right off the bat but somewhere along the line someone mentioned the class and I thought that would be a really, really cool thing to do,” she said.

While she is not officially a member of the class, Brown said she has enjoyed watching the class work and the interaction between the professors and students.

“The professors allowed the students to design elements of the show and I thought that was spectacular,” Brown said. “I know I’m not at that level yet but the higher level students in horticulture and landscape design – and even people who aren’t in our major but are interested in doing this – have been able to utilize these skills, put them to the test and really accomplish something immense and incredibly beautiful. The finished result will be spectacular, I know it.”

The clients

Using three clients, the goal of the project was to build three different gardens based on the clients’ individual personalities. The result was three very different gardens.

students and professors work on the flower show displayThe first one is titled “Connector” and was made for Dan Walsh, who lives in Wilmington and works as a banker. The name comes from the fact that Walsh is politically connected and does a lot for the community, including running a not-for-profit organization called Mustaches for Kidds, in which people grow mustaches during the month of November for the Supporting Kidds center for grieving children and their families.

Cox explained that as a bachelor, Walsh “doesn’t want to do a lot of plant maintenance, so his garden is very low maintenance. But he has an outdoor theatre, and he has an outdoor fireplace, so it still features a lot of things that a bachelor would want in his particular garden.”

The space is also equipped with a doghouse for Walsh’s brown Labrador retriever named Willie.

The second space is titled “Transitional,” as it is designed for 24-year-old Carly Burrus, a UD graduate who is a young artist. The idea behind the garden is that since Burrus is in a transitional part of her life and not really sure where she will be a year from now, everything in the garden is easily transportable.

Bruck said the garden is “very artsy, very much showing off her personality and the youngness of being a 20 something-year-old artist.”

Cox added that the space has a yoga mat made out of corkboard and lots of easily moveable planting containers. “We know a 24-year-old probably isn’t going to be in the same space for a very long time so everything she can just pack up and take with her to the next spot,” he said.

The last space is called “Legacy” and is designed for Josh Taylor, a naturalist and photographer who teaches photography workshops in the Mid-Atlantic region. The idea behind this garden, according to Bruck, is “if this was your last garden and you were going to leave a legacy what would you put in your garden?”

Because of it’s “Legacy” inspiration, this garden has one big tree that will be around for future generations, shrubs, a pond with a waterfall and lots of native plants to allow Taylor to relax and watch birds in his garden.

“Josh’s garden uses a lot of native materials and we’re hoping to show the design process — how the students designed all these gardens and how they picked out the things, and that observers can do this, too. There will be design process pieces, and take-aways that you can take with you so you can understand how to do this on your own,” said Bruck.

Cox added, “All of our elements are also highlighting sustainable processes so we’ve got recycled materials, and we have things that you can use over again.” He singled out the yoga mat made of materials from a cork tree as an example of sustainability.

The actual flowers for the show have been grown in University of Delaware greenhouses by Taylor Fehmel, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who has worked with the flowers as an independent study project since fall 2012.

Bruck said that Fehmel has been “forcing” the flowers, or getting them to grow early. It is a complex project and Bruck said of Fehmel, “She’s been cool under fire, because this has been a trial by fire.”

Bruck added, “It’s funny, we spend so much time on the construction of the exhibit but there’s only so many people who can be in there working on the plants. You can’t just sit there watching the things grow, but it’s the most important part, and the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS) is always quick to remind us that it’s a flower show and, as cool as your exhibit might be, you need to have a lot of greenery and a lot of flowers. She’s been working hard on that.”

Bruck was also quick to point out that the show would not have been possible had it not been for the contributions from various donors. PHS donated funds to support the project, as did Shift Design in Philadelphia. The team also received a generous Scholarship of Engagement grant through Lynnette Overby, director of UD’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning, she said.

Once the flower show is over, the exhibit will not be gone. Bruck explained the class will transport the exhibit to a local park in Wilmington where it will be on display and serve to beautify that section of the city.

“We’re then going to take the pieces and the plants and everything and reconfigure it and they’ll get a chance to design and build a little urban park for a community in Wilmington,” said Bruck. “This spring, our students will clear out the park of all the invasive plant matter and debris and use the materials to create a beautiful space for the community in the Brandywine Mid-Town Park.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Jon Cox, Danielle Quigley and Anthony Middlebrooks

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

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Hong Yin finishes up school with multiple areas of study

January 17, 2013 under CANR News

Hong Yin will graduate in the spring with 3 majors and 2 minorsHong Yin has more majors (3) and minors (2) than years it took to graduate from the University of Delaware (4).

She is majoring in food and agribusiness marketing and management (FABM) and in resource economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), and in operations management in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics — and minoring in economics  and international business with a foreign language. That might seem unmanageable to some, but not to Yin.

Yin, who is originally from China and who attended the University of Delaware’s English Language Institute to learn the English language, has maintained a grade point average of above 3.0 despite taking such a full course load. She said that in addition to the educational advantage of taking so many classes, she took a lot of classes for another reason, as well — to meet more people.

“I’m not from here so I figured, if I take more classes, I will know more people and then I will meet more friends. It worked out really well.”

Yin said that she enjoys all of her areas of study, and especially likes that they are so different. “For example, the FABM is more focused on the agriculture sector. Resource economics is more focused on environmental concerns that businesses are facing today. On the other hand, operations management is more about making everything efficient and eliminating waste.”

Yin singled out Steven Hastings, professor and associate chair in CANR’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC), for making his introductory level economics class so interesting that it spurred her to look into APEC to find a major that she liked. It turned out, that she found two.

One of those majors could come in very handy, especially to her parents. “My parents have a company in China. They sell dairy products, like baby formulas,” said Yin. “And they said, ‘If you don’t find a satisfying career in the U.S. after you graduate, the family business could benefit from your education.’ That’s why I added the FABM major.”

Yin now has Hastings as an advisor and she said that he is “really helpful. He helps students plan out what they want and he is always there, always in the office and whenever you email him, even on the breaks, it is really easy to get in touch with him and talk about what you want and then he gives you really good suggestions.”

Of Yin, Hastings said, “I have known Hong for three years, since she declared her second and third majors, both in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I was immediately impressed with her enthusiasm and motivation.” Hastings added, “While many students take random courses for electives, Hong was adamant — she wanted to take courses that counted for another major. She is a wonderfully pleasant young lady that has accomplished a great deal.”

As for her favorite part about UD, Yin said that she enjoys the outdoor areas available for students to study. “I like The Green a lot because where I’m from in China, there are not many stretches of green areas. In the summer it is really beautiful.”  Yin added that she also enjoys, “the Botanic Garden in the spring. I appreciate the plants much more because of Professor Swasey’s—Professor Emeritus in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences–flower arranging class.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Harsh Bais featured in “The Scientist” magazine

January 3, 2013 under Spotlight on Success

Harsh Bais, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has been featured in “The Scientist” magazine for his work with beneficial microbes.

The study featured in the article takes a look at how plants rely on bacteria and fungi for health and defense, and how plant biologists are starting to look at ways in which they can use beneficial soil microbes to aid plants as a sort of vaccine.

Bais is quoted in the article as explaining “The idea is that we can reduce pesticide and fungicide use by utilizing the microbiome. But we need to know more about the mechanisms of action; relationships between microbes and plants are very complex.”

To read the full article on the Scientist website, click here.

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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

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Department of Plant and Soil Sciences adds Seyfferth to Staff

November 19, 2012 under CANR News

Angelia Seyfferth has joined the faculty in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Seyfferth previously conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University under the Department of Environmental Earth System Science. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Towson University, and received a doctoral degree in soil and water sciences from the University of California, Riverside.

In addition to being an assistant professor in CANR, Seyfferth is also affiliated with the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), which she says she looks forward to as it will open the door for interdisciplinary research opportunities, especially with regards to environmental issues.

“UD has started a strong focus on environmental issues with the creation of DENIN and the Critical Zone Observatory and it just seems like a really exciting time to be here, to be affiliated with the environmental movement that’s happening on campus,” said Seyfferth.

One of the areas that Seyfferth’s research focuses on is arsenic levels in rice, and she said that interdisciplinary collaboration can help inform this research. “I think you can learn a lot about a particular topic if you’re narrowly focused on it but to solve some of these big issues, you need to think trans-disciplinary. So if you think about the arsenic in rice issue, you have to understand what’s happening in terms of the soil chemistry but also the plant physiology and if you were just closed to one or the other, you may not understand how they interact.”

There is also a social aspect for communities–especially those in South and Southeast Asia–when it comes to rice that Seyfferth said can only be solved through interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Typically natural scientists and social scientists have little interaction.  One of the great things about DENIN is that natural scientists have the opportunity to interact with people on the social side,” said Seyfferth. She explained that in Cambodia, the word for “to eat” is the same as the word for “rice” and having outsiders come in and simply tell the residents to change their practices won’t work without understanding the social science aspect.

“So again, just like not any one scientific discovery is going to fix the problem, it’s not just one field, it’s going to be several different people coming together with different experience and expertise to solve some of these complex environmental issues,” said Seyfferth.

Seyfferth said that her research “focuses on understanding the processes that dictate contaminant and nutrient cycling in the rhizosphere and lead to uptake of contaminants by food crops.” Another part of her research is “looking at ways to minimize the amount of contaminants that are taken up by food crops.”

One such contaminant is arsenic.

As far as arsenic in rice, Seyfferth explained that rice is very susceptible to arsenic because of the way in which it is grown. Most soils contain arsenic, but when arsenic is present in soils that are aerated, the arsenic is bound to the solid soil particles and doesn’t move.

Rice, however, is mostly grown in flooded conditions.

“If a plant is going to take up arsenic, the arsenic needs to be in the soil solution,” said Seyfferth. “The process of flooding a soil sets up a whole different suite of biogeochemical conditions which allow the arsenic to be released from the solid and move into solution where the plant can take it up. So rice tends to accumulate more arsenic than other cereals because it’s mostly grown under flooded conditions.”

When it comes to the risk that arsenic in rice poses to Americans, Seyfferth said that the arsenic toxicity has to do with a variety of factors, among them is the concentration of arsenic in whatever a person may be ingesting, and the amount of tainted food and water ingested.

This is one of the reasons that Americans are at less of a risk than citizens of South and Southeast Asia. For one thing, the water quality standards are safer in the U.S. than they are in, for example, Bangladesh and Cambodia. Also, Americans do not depend on rice in their daily diet as much as those in Southeast Asia, where they eat rice 3 times a day, everyday.

That doesn’t mean that Americans should not be concerned, however. “I think it’s important to be concerned, to be aware of any chemical that you’re being exposed to,” said Seyfferth. “But the amount of rice that we tend to eat, typically in the U.S. is much lower. If we have it a couple times a week, it’s probably not going to have a huge impact.”

Seyfferth also notes that brown rice, while more nutritious than white rice, is also higher in arsenic concentration. “The act of polishing the rice to make it white removes the micronutrients that are located on the outer layer of the grain,” said Seyfferth. “So if you polish it, you’ve removed much of the arsenic but you’ve also removed many of the micronutrients that we actually need.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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Stefanie Ralph excels at agricultural education

November 8, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Stefanie Ralph, a University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) alumnus, has been named the 2012 Smyrna School District Teacher of the Year. Ralph graduated in 2007 with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural education and technology with a concentration in natural resources, and with a minor in landscape horticulture.

Of the award, Ralph said, “Being chosen as the District Teacher of the Year is unquestionable the most extraordinary honor of my career, and I wish to express my gratitude.  I think, at some point, every teacher begins to question if they’re doing a good job, especially since it often goes unrecognized. Being selected restores my confidence as a teacher, and it’s encouraging to know that my colleagues believe that I’m doing a good job.”

Ralph teaches 7th grade Agriscience at Smyrna Middle School, and she said that she believes that the school is filled with great teachers.  “The entire faculty at Smyrna is highly qualified and all go above and beyond the call of duty,” said Ralph.

Ralph said that she finds teaching middle school challenging but rewarding at the same time. Reflecting how most students in that age range are still trying to find themselves, Ralph said that the students are “constantly trying on different personas. They need to know they are cared for and are needed. It is rewarding to obtain a trusting, meaningful rapport with students as they enthusiastically grow and mature from the first day they walk into my class.”

Having been involved in 4-H and FFA for 13 years, Ralph said that it has been a lifelong goal of hers to educate and promote awareness about the importance of agriculture to students who may be unaware about the critical role it plays in their day-to-day lives. “I believe that education is the foundation of success and through my course, students develop various life skills to become active, contributing citizens to today’s society,” said Ralph. “I became a teacher to not only make a difference in a child’s life, but to prepare students for the future, as they are the future.”

While she attended CANR, Ralph said that her education helped her learn about various aspects of the agriculture industry, from taking classes on animal science and plant and soil science to agribusiness and natural resource management, among others. “By taking these various courses, I was able to expand my knowledge base in the agriculture industry; thus preparing me to teach various courses as an agriculture educator,” said Ralph.

Ralph also noted that she particularly enjoyed her study abroad trip to New Zealand, where she learned about pastoral livestock production, and that she enjoyed professors such as Patricia Barber, a retired faculty member from the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, David Frey, associate professor and assistant Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Ed Kee, retired University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Specialist and University alumnus.

The person who she originally learned about agriculture from, however, was her grandmother. “As a young girl, I remember helping my grandmother in her garden, digging in the dirt, having fun, not realizing at that time she was teaching me to appreciate our environment. She was planting the seeds for me to grow and aspire in a way to continue my journey to learn more about my passion for plants and agriculture.”

For any current students who are hoping to one day become teachers themselves, Ralph offered some words of wisdom stressing the importance of preparation and passion in teaching. “The advice I would give to a future teacher is to show your passion in your lessons and planning; show the students that you are there for them to learn and you will stop at nothing for them to succeed.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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