Students battle rice blast disease with underground microbes

November 30, 2010 under CANR News

Rice is the most important grain consumed by humans, providing more than one-fifth of the calories sustaining the world’s population. By some estimates, however, global production of rice could feed an additional 60 million people, if it weren’t for rice blast disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe grisea.

This past summer, four students from the University of Delaware and two of its partner institutions in Delaware’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR program, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical and Community College, found themselves on the front lines of the battle to defeat rice blast.

Those battle lines have been drawn on opposite coasts of the United States, through a collaboration between scientists in Delaware and at the University of California at Davis, the land-grant institution of the UC system. The students therefore split their summer internship between laboratories in both states.

The project is led by Harsh Bais, professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The full article with photos can be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

Article courtesy of Beth Chajes, DENIN

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CANR researchers promote native plants for suburban lawns

October 4, 2010 under CANR News

University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy has been conducting research studies on the interaction between native plant species and native wildlife since 2000. Author of Bringing Nature Home, which met with critical acclaim in The New York Times and other publications, Tallamy is well aware that most suburban homeowners plant few shrubs and trees, preferring instead vast expanses of grass.

But his latest research, conducted this summer with Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, amazed even him. The duo analyzed the composition of 65 suburban yards in New Castle County and Chester County, Pa. They discovered that, on average, homeowners dedicated 92 percent of landscapable areas to lawn.

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UD prof pioneers new generation of lameness detection in cattle

October 4, 2010 under CANR News

In the United States, approximately one in five dairy cattle have a detrimental physical condition called lameness, says Robert Dyer, associate professor of large animal immunology, infectious disease and production medicine at the University of Delaware and a large animal veterinarian.

Fortunately, Dyer and his colleagues at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) are continually updating a computerized system that aids in the early detection of lameness, in hopes of saving the dairy industry billions of dollars each year.

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CANR Summer Institute offers glimpse of graduate student life

July 20, 2010 under CANR News

This summer five undergraduate students are conducting research with faculty mentors in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), experiencing the challenges and rewards of what a graduate education at UD might be like.

As participants in the Summer Institute in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, hosted by the college, these students are taking part in ongoing research projects guided by personal faculty mentors, networking with current graduate students and other staff within CANR, and interacting with industry professionals.

“The Summer Institute is a team effort by faculty from all departments in our college,” said Tom Sims, deputy dean of the college. “It provides these five outstanding undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct hands-on research and learn about the range of graduate education opportunities available in the agricultural and natural resources sciences.”

Now in its second year, the 10-week program — funded by the college and a Graduate Innovation and Improvement Grant from UD’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education – draws students from under-represented populations who are interested in a graduate degree in agriculture and natural resource sciences.

Maria Pautler, the program’s coordinator, said the Summer Institute was expanded from 4 to 10 weeks after last year’s participants suggested a longer program. The extended program allows students to become more involved with their research projects and present their findings at a campus-wide symposium at the end of the summer, she said.

“This, coupled with opportunities to attend seminars, workshops, and panelist luncheons, is exposing the students to facts and opinions on preparation for, and life in and beyond, graduate school,” Paulter said.

The 2010 CANR Summer Institute participants are:

Kamedra McNeil, of Forestville, Md., is a molecular biology major at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. McNeil is involved in the Winston-Salem Student Government Association, Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society, NSCS Scholars and Pre-Marc Scholars. She is interested in a career in forensic biology. During her time at the Summer Institute, McNeil is studying different genes associated with photoperiod in plants. Her faculty mentor is Randall Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences.

Shurnevia Strickland, of Philadelphia, is a senior applied animal science major at UD. Strickland is secretary and webmaster for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). She is interested in future research with genetics. At the Summer Institute, Strickland is studying the endothelin 3 gene in the silkie chicken. Her faculty mentor is Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences.

Rochelle Day, of Laurel, Del., is a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD. Day is a member of Puppy Raisers of UD (PROUD) and MANRRS, and is looking toward a career in animal pathology. At the Summer Institute, Day is mapping the genome of the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV), an upper respiratory disease in birds that causes economic losses for the poultry industry. Her faculty mentor is Calvin Keeler, professor of animal and food sciences.

Rothman Reyes, of Long Island, N.Y., is a sophomore pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD with minors in sexuality and gender studies, and women’s studies. Reyes raises puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is a member of the LEARN mentor program. He also serves as co-president of the PROUD special interest community. Reyes hopes to practice veterinary medicine at a zoo. At the Summer Institute, Reyes is creating a fosmid library, where he will induce a mutation onto the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV) to create a vaccine. His faculty mentor is also Calvin Keeler.

Kristina Barr, of Kingstree, SC., is a senior biology major at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. She is a member of the Environmental Awareness Club at her school and plans to pursue a career as an ecologist. Her research at the Summer Institute involves the effects of rose bushes on birds’ ability to forage for food. Her faculty mentors are Jacob Bowman, associate professor, and Greg Shriver, assistant professor, both of entomology and wildlife ecology.

Article by Chelsea Caltuna

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UD researcher battles rice blast disease to protect food supply

March 3, 2010 under CANR News

A University of Delaware scientist is waging an important battle to help protect a major resource in the world’s food supply from a devastating fungal disease known as rice blast.  Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, said rice blast disease affects foods that many developing countries depend on, such as rice, as well as other members of the grass family including rye, wheat and barley.

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Conservationists model smart shopping, save big

February 3, 2010 under CANR News

If there was ever a time for conservationists to shop smart, this is it. Across America, states confront budget shortfalls — a grim cycle of cuts, followed by more cuts that the Pew Center on States refers to as “fiscal crisis.” Tough choices confront land conservationists, who shop the American landscape with big ambitions but slim wallets.

That’s why an emerging economics tool is so timely. Researchers at the University of Delaware and The Conservation Fund have designed a computer based decision making tool that is helping conservationists get more bang for their buck — by evaluating potential conservation projects for best dollar value. With this new tool, government leaders can comparison-shop projects like never before.

“We all want the most bang for our buck, and conservation is no different,” says Will Allen, director of strategic conservation at The Conservation Fund, a leading environmental nonprofit. “Are you spending too much money on expensive projects — what some call budget sponges — or are you getting real value? With public budgets so tight, government officials must be able to justify how they’re spending these dollars wisely.”

Until now, conservation organizations have chosen which lands to conserve based primarily on land benefits. Their goal is to save high-priority land that’s valued for agriculture, perhaps, or open space and wildlife habitat. But Baltimore County, Md., has a better way, using optimization techniques developed by UD’s Kent Messer, an economist in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Allen.

According to Messer, optimization strategy, first used by the military during World War II, is gaining new ground in the conservation world. He says it would have once taken a supercomputer to run these calculations. But thanks to evolving technology, people can now run optimization analysis quickly for fields like conservation, which has largely operated more on a wish-list level.

Messer compares buying land to buying wine — choosing well means recognizing good value when you see it.

Messer and Allen have developed and applied a computer model to “optimize” conservation decisions. The model turns raw data about conservation decisions — project costs, benefits (scored numerically), budget constraints — into a user-friendly spreadsheet yielding comparison shopping conclusions.

Using the model, for example, a government agency can quickly compare the relative value of all possible projects — and then make, and justify, an informed choice.

The Baltimore County Agricultural Land Preservation Program in Maryland has one of the nation’s most well-established farmland preservation efforts. Every year since 2007, Baltimore County has tapped an optimization model to choose which agricultural lands to save with impressive results.

Over the past three years, Baltimore County staff estimate that optimization has helped the county protect an additional 680 acres of high-quality agricultural land at a cost savings of roughly $5.4 million compared to the class conservation decisions tools. This amounts to a return on investment of more than 60 to 1. In other words, for every dollar that Baltimore County spent using its optimization model, it has gained more than $60 in conservation benefits.

“This work is especially important in these times of constrained budgets. Making our money go as far as possible is a good thing,” says Michael McGrath, chief of planning for the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA). Messer used data provided by the DDA for some of his initial research related to optimization. He and McGrath continue to look for ways that UD and DDA can use these techniques in Delaware.

McGrath says, “Dr. Messer’s current work in Baltimore County provides important substantiation of his techniques in optimization. These techniques have applicability in Delaware and all across the U.S. in optimizing farmland preservation easement negotiations.”

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EPSCoR seed grants awarded for environmental research

January 7, 2010 under CANR News

The Delaware EPSCoR office has awarded three seed grants to investigators whose projects address environmental challenges in Delaware.  CANR faculty members among researchers awarded. 

Click here for the full story on UDaily.

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