Amy Shober joins CANR faculty and Cooperative Extension

November 5, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

After 6 years working and living in Florida, Amy Shober decided that it was time to come back to the mid-Atlantic, so when she saw a job open up at the University of Delaware, she jumped at the opportunity.

Shober now holds a position in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources as an assistant professor for nutrient management and environmental quality, as well as having an appointment as an Extension specialist. She said that returning to UD is like a homecoming for her, as she received her Ph. D from the University in 2006.

“I’m just really excited to be here, happy to be back working in agriculture, and happy to be back in the mid-Atlantic,” said Shober.

Shober is familiar with working in Cooperative Extension, having spent 6 years working as an Extension specialist at the University of Florida. She explained that at Florida, she was “working mostly on urban issues related to soil, water, and nutrient management.”

Shober said that though she enjoyed working in landscape horticulture, she was eager to get back to focusing more on agriculture.

“I had spent 6 years gaining a different perspective in a different kind of setting and in a different university system. I also learned a lot about Extension while I was at Florida. It was quickly clear that Extension was where I wanted to be,” said Shober. She added that when she saw this position open up, she thought that the job was “a perfect fit for me. I was really interested in it and I was excited for the chance to return to Delaware.”

Whereas in Florida she was more involved with helping homeowners, her appointment at UD will have her working more with growers. “My research and Extension programs are really going to be grower driven. As I begin my career at UD, I’ll be meeting growers and talking with them about what their needs are. This will allow me to design my research program so that it meets their needs,” said Shober. “We want to help growers increase their yields and their economic bottom line, but we also want to use nutrients and water efficiently.”

Another thing that excites Shober about her appointment is the chance it presents for collaboration.

“I have the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at Penn State, Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland, West Virginia University and Cornell. It’s a fun group to work with and I knew them when I was at UD as a Ph.D student. It’s nice to be back in that group,” said Shober.

Article by Adam Thomas


The Science of Wine 2013

October 25, 2012 under CANR News

During the upcoming winter session, Dr. Pamela Green will be offering The Science of Wine (PLSC167-010). The course is open to undergraduate students and anyone else who would like to register. Please see the Flyer 2013 PLSC167-010 for details. The enrollment limit is already set at its maximum, and the course filled up very quickly the last four years, so be sure to register ASAP. If you are not able to get a seat during registration, you might come to the first class and then check UDSIS periodically during the add/drop period to see whether any seats become available. Sometimes a few students drop during the first week.



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.


Researchers reveal the ‘dark side’ of beneficial soil bacteria

September 21, 2012 under CANR News

It’s a battleground down there — in the soil where plants and bacteria dwell.

Even though beneficial root bacteria come to the rescue when a plant is being attacked by pathogens, there’s a dark side to the relationship between the plant and its white knight.

According to research reported by a University of Delaware scientific team in the September online edition of Plant Physiology, the most highly cited plant journal, a power struggle ensues as the plant and the “good” bacteria vie over who will control the plant’s immune system.

“For the brief period when the beneficial soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis is associated with the plant, the bacterium hijacks the plant’s immune system,” says Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, whose laboratory group led the research at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

In studies of microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs), a hot area of plant research, the UD team found that B. subtilis produces a small antimicrobial protein that suppresses the root defense response momentarily in the lab plant Arabidopsis.

“It’s the first time we’ve shown classically how suppression by a benign bacteria works,” Bais says. “There are shades of gray — the bacteria that we view as beneficial don’t always work toward helping plants.”

In the past, Bais’ lab has shown that plants under aerial attack send an SOS message, through secretions of the chemical compound malate, to recruit the beneficial B. subtilis to come help.

In more recent work, Bais and his collaborators showed that MAMP perception of pathogens at the leaf level could trigger a similar response in plants. Through an intraplant, long-distance signaling, from root to shoot, beneficial bacteria are recruited to forge a system-wide defense, boosting the plant’s immune system, the team demonstrated. In that study, the Bais team also questioned the overall tradeoffs involved in plants that are associated with so-called beneficial microbes.

In the latest work, involving the testing of more than 1,000 plants, the researchers shed more light on the relationship. They show that B. subtilis uses a secreted peptide to suppress the immune response in plants. It is known that plants synthesize several antimicrobial compounds to ward off bacteria, Bais says.

The team also shows that when plant leaves were treated with a foliar MAMP — flagellin, a structural protein in the flagellum, the tail-like appendage that bacteria use like a propeller — it triggered the recruitment of beneficial bacteria to the plant roots.

“The ability of beneficial bacteria to suppress plant immunity may facilitate efficient colonization of rhizobacteria on the roots,” Bais says. Rhizobacteria form an important symbiotic relationship with the plant, fostering its growth by converting nitrogen in the air into a nutrient form the plant can use.

“We don’t know how long beneficial bacteria could suppress the plant immune response, but we do know there is a very strong warfare under way underground,” Bais says, noting that his lab is continuing to explore these interesting questions. “We are just beginning to understand this interaction between plants and beneficial soil bacteria.”

The lead author of the research article was Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Sherry Kitto, professor of plant and soil sciences; Jeffrey Caplan, associate director of UD’s Bio-Imaging Center; Yu-Sung Wu, director of the Protein Production Facility; Daniel B. Kearns, associate professor in the Department of Biology at Indiana University; and Yi-Huang Hsueh , of the Graduate School of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at Yuan Ze University, Taiwan.

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Animation and images courtesy of Harsh Bais

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


UD graduate Seyler studies ethnobotany in Hawaii

September 14, 2012 under CANR News

Culturally and botanically, University of Delaware graduate Barnabas Seyler is living in paradise as he conducts his doctoral research in ethnobotany at the University of Hawaii.

Ethnobotany, the blending of ethnology–the study of culture–and botany–the study of plants–suits Seyler perfectly as he loves learning about diverse people, histories and cultures as well as plants. He said that this multidisciplinary approach is important because, “much of the major conservation and botanical challenges we face today are quite complicated, and they, in many cases, must be solved in cooperation/collaboration with people in quite different cultures.”

As an undergraduate at UD, Seyler learned about a wide variety of subjects as he received a bachelor of science from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), double majoring in landscape horticulture and plant science, with a minor in plant biology, and a bachelor of arts degree from the College of Arts and Sciences where he majored in East Asian studies with a minor in philosophy. For his graduate degree, Seyler attended the Longwood Graduate Program in public horticulture where he earned his master of science degree.

Seyler said that he enjoyed the small teacher to student ratio at CANR and “loved that the teachers knew me by name and knew my interests and encouraged me along the way.” He also said that he enjoyed getting to know David Frey, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who served as the advisor to the Horticulture Club, of which Seyler was President for 3 years. “Dr. Frey was also always there to offer advice and encourage me along the way,” said Seyler.

Seyler also noted that his academic advisor Sherry Kitto, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, was “quite encouraging to me when things got difficult and was always full of wisdom and practical advice.”

Of the Longwood Graduate Program, Seyler said that, “The professional connections and contacts I was able to make, the professional development opportunities, and the incredible travel and research trips were quite significant in leading me to where I am today. My advisor, Dr. Robert Lyons, who is the director of the Longwood Graduate Program, was also a great resource. He allowed me to continue taking Chinese language classes throughout my master’s program, and he was a great encouragement.”

During his master’s program, Seyler traveled to China where he conducted his thesis research, before ending up in Hawaii.

For someone who loves rich, diverse culture and plant life as much as Seyler, he couldn’t have found a better place. “I can’t deny that the weather and tropical flora are quite enjoyable. Although I am actually a temperate-flora guy, I am really enjoying the ability to become better versed in tropical plants,” said Seyler. On the cultural side, Seyler said that what he really enjoys about Hawaii is that it “has an incredibly rich diversity of cultures, languages, and people. Hawaiian Pidgin, the local creole language, is quite interesting since it blends English with the beautiful Hawaiian language, with its deep meaning and cultural significance. As one who loves learning languages and interacting with different cultures, I feel like I am in Heaven!”

At the University of Hawaii, Seyler is conducting his research with a professor in China at Sichuan University. The two of them will work on a population assessment of the orchids in Sichuan Province. Though the project is still in its preliminary stages, Seyler does say that there is a need to assess the current status of orchids throughout China, as many populations have been declining as a result of over harvesting.

In addition to his studies, Seyler is also a teaching assistant for a plant ecology class. He said that he enjoys the class because it is relatively new and thus has a lot of flexibility and potential for the future and that he enjoys being able to work with the professor who he said is “an excellent teacher and well-liked by the students.”

Seyler is also in a unique position as he is both a student at the University of Hawaii and a participant in the East-West Center’s education program. According to its website, the East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia and the Pacific through cooperative study, research and dialogue.

Seyler explained that he “received an East-West Center Association Alumni Scholarship, so I participate in the EWC Graduate Degree Program. I get to live in the EWC dormitory with students from all over the Asia Pacific region and beyond.”

He estimates that there are more than 60 countries represented and said that they “participate in educational programs, seminars, and community-building activities together, while also building friendships and relationships that will continue into our careers and future lives.”

For anyone interested in applying to graduate school, Seyler offered some words of wisdom saying, “In my experience, there are three things that graduate schools, and employers, are looking for in applicants–beyond simply the GPA, letters of recommendation, and essays.”

Those three things are “study abroad, volunteer, and internship experiences. If at all possible, I would encourage students to try to get as many of these opportunities as possible.”

Article by Adam Thomas


Aug. 25: NCC Day in the Garden

August 22, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Join the New Castle County Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators for a Day in the Garden.  FREE, and for the entire family.  Saturday, August 25, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm.

Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators will be available in the Vegetable Teaching and Demonstration Garden at the University of Delaware New Castle County Extension Office at 461 Wyoming Road to answer home gardening-related questions and share a taste of the garden harvest.

Displays will offer information on the following:

  • food safety
  • nutrition
  • growing and harvesting summer and fall vegetables and fruits
  • freezing and canning
  • worm bin and backyard composting
  • pollinators
  • seed starting
  • and more….

Samples of fresh salsa, gazpacho, and vegetables, harvested from the garden on that day, will also be available for tasting.

For more information, contact Carrie Murphy, Horticulture Educator, New Castle County Cooperative Extension.  (302) 831-2506,


Nematode Assay Service

August 15, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The University of Delaware Nematode Assay Service processes samples on Tuesdays of each week. This fee based service provides identification and enumeration of plant parasitic nematodes in soil and plant tissue.  The next set-up date will be August 21, 2012. Please note fee changes, and utilize the new form available as a pdf on the website, available by clicking here. A completed form must accompany submitted soil samples. Troubleshooting plant and root samples may be submitted at any time.  For more information visit the UD Plant Diagnostic Clinic website or call 302-831-1390. The Clinic is located in 151 Townsend Hall, 531 South College Avenue, Newark, Delaware.  A parking space for sample drop offs is located behind Townsend Hall.

For a useful video on how to sample for nematodes, visit the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources YouTube page. Or, see this video for diagnosing nematode damage in the field.


Colorful Natives at UDBG this Fall

August 15, 2012 under CANR News, Events

Did the heat and drought claim a few of your prize perennials this summer?

Fill those empty spaces and add a little zing to your garden with a fabulous selection of colorful natives and other choice plants at the UDBG Fall Plant Sale. Admission is free.

  • Friday, September 7 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 8 from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • UDBG Friends can shop early at Members Day, Thursday, September 6 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Explore color in the garden with two lectures focusing on the wide range of color available using native plants:

  • UD’s Dr. Robert Lyons presents “The Color of the Native Plant Palette…and Other Related Thoughts,” Tuesday, September 4, 7 p.m.–Lyons presents colorful, reliable natives that function within a low maintenance philosophy. UDBG Friends: $5; $10 for nonmembers.
  • North Creek Nurseries’ Claudia West explores “The Landscape’s Color Spectrum: Apply Natural Color Theories to Enhance Design,” Tuesday, October 9, 7 p.m.—Learn how native plant communities inspire harmonious landscape design. UDBG Friends: free; $10 for nonmembers.

The Plant Sale is located in the Production Area behind Townsend Hall on UD’s South Campus. Both lectures will be held in The Commons, Townsend Hall on the University of Delaware’s South Campus. Pre-registration is requested for the lectures. Contact Sue Biddle at (302) 831-2531 or email Visit our website, for more information on these and all events at UDBG.


Thousand Cankers Disease of Walnut Close to DE

August 14, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

TCD on black walnut – image courtesy of Karen Snover-Clift, Cornell University

Thousand Cankers Disease (TCD) of black walnut was found in central Virginia along I-95 in 2011, and later that year in Bucks County, PA. TCD is a disease of walnut trees, Juglans spp., and it has continued to spread east in the last few years, after initial finds in the Western U.S. and Tennessee. The causal fungus is carried by the very tiny walnut twig beetle. Small cankers form under the bark of the tree, and ultimately trees die. Yellowing and dieback in the tops of trees are usually the first symptoms. Native black walnuts in Delaware are at risk.

Contact the UD Plant Diagnostic Clinic for information.151 Townsend Hall, 531 South College Avenue, Newark, DE. (302) 831-1390.

Click here for a fact sheet about the disease.



UD-created computer game teaches Delaware State Fair goers about ‘green’ plants

August 2, 2012 under CANR News

Native plants rule when it comes to stormwater management – that’s the lesson children and other visitors to the Delaware State Fair learned when they stopped to play computer games at the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) exhibit in Harrington last week.

The games, developed by computer science and art students at the University of Delaware, aimed to help the public understand that some garden and lawn plants are better for the environment than others. Players chose different plants and then watched to learn how the plantings affected water, wildlife and people in the game.

In one example, players who chose plantings considered invasive saw the plants spread across the board and prevent them from planting other beneficial plants. This visual illustration quickly demonstrated what it might take people seasons to witness in their own backyard.

In particular, the games educated the public that selecting the right native species can help manage stormwater runoff – water created during rain or snow that does not soak into the ground but flows into surface waterways and storm sewers.

“People visit the exhibits because they are interested in learning. This is an ideal time to explain the tightly connected parts of the Delaware ecosystem,” explained Terry Harvey, UD assistant professor of computer and information sciences, who along with Troy Richards, associate professor of art, helped and advised the students in developing the games.

In the past, stormwater has been managed with engineering solutions such as large storm water systems built to quickly collect water and move it to another location. According to Susan Barton, a UD associate professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in plant and soil sciences who was involved in the project, properly managed stormwater is best left where it falls.

“As water collects, it becomes more forceful and dangerous,” she remarked. “Pollutants such as pesticides and herbicides picked up along the way become concentrated, posing a potential hazard for rivers and causing erosion problems. Native plants, well-adapted to Delaware’s conditions, can help by intercepting rainwater that filters into the landscape, slowing it down and allowing it to be transpired back into the atmosphere.”

As more and more of the Delaware landscape is paved, there is less surface for proper water infiltration, causing even the smallest rain to puddle on roads and sidewalks. Rain gardens, for example, can help minimize runoff while providing important support for insects and birds. Using plants in unexpected places like rooftops and parking lots may also offer similar benefits, Barton said.

Students of Harvey and Richards initially developed 11 different games as part of a software engineering and art course last spring. Marianne Walch, environmental scientist, and Randy Cole, manager from DelDOT’s stormwater management program, evaluated the games for playability, educational potential and fun, selecting two of the games to debut at the state fair.

“Playing the games has been very effective in helping us deliver the message to both kids and their parents that small changes in the way they plant and maintain their own yard can have a large impact on the health of our waterways and ecosystems,” said Walch. “Professors Harvey and Richards and their students brought a lot of enthusiasm, talent and creativity to this project.”

UD faculty and students involved in the project include:

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Photos by Danielle Quigley and Troy Richards

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.