College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Research News

University of Maryland Extension Specialist Receives National Award for Research Excellence in Water Use Management

Research - Thu, 2017-11-16 10:58
Dr. John Lea-Cox’s project promotes direct engagement with farmers to reduce environmental impacts in nursery and greenhouse industry John Lea-Cox w/ a Research Sensor Network

Washington, D.C. -- This past Sunday, Dr. John Lea-Cox and a select group of colleagues accepted the 2017 Experiment Station Section Excellence in Multistate Research award for their work in managing irrigation for ornamental crops. The project, titled NC-1186: Water Management and Quality for Ornamental Crop Production and Health, is a national working group helping ornamental nursery and greenhouse operations better manage water use, as availability and quality of water for irrigation decreases. As part of this effort, Lea-Cox is helping commercial growers manage daily irrigation practices through sensor-based networks. Due to the efforts of his University of Maryland team and others in this national group, growers are reporting a reduction in pathogenic disease and herbicide and pesticide runoff, better crop quality, increased water savings, and shorter production cycles – all of which are increasing economic returns to farmers.

Representing the University of Maryland, Lea-Cox is a professor within UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and is part of a multistate program group comprised of researchers from 21 land-grant universities. This working group -- funded by some modest yearly dollars from the USDA -- has been deliberate in mentoring the next generation of researchers to solve water security and nutrient management challenges. They are particularly concerned with capacity building amongst institutional faculty, and are committed to meeting the five and ten-year benchmark process as part of the USDA grant. There is a dedication to transparency, outcomes and impact with three generations of researchers as part of this group, including post-docs and graduate students.

With a substantial $5.2 million, five-year Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant from the USDA in 2009, Lea-Cox led a national team developing sensor networks and software for use by ornamental growers. This initial effort led to a further SCRI planning grant which was instrumental in identifying water re-use issues through a national survey of nearly 400 ornamental crop growers. “The top three issues in play were disease/pathogens, herbicide/pesticide and agrichemical runoff, and the economics of water security,” said Lea-Cox. “Great discussions were had with lots of questions we need to answer; for instance, ‘Should I devote five acres of land on my property for storing water?’ This a valid question and an issue we’re now working to resolve for ornamental growers, through the follow-up national grant led by Sarah White at Clemson University.”

As part of this new national grant, Lea-Cox and his Maryland team supports two on-farm and one research sensor network in Maryland with additional networks at Michigan State, UC Davis, Virginia Tech and Oregon State. Each location is focused on solving different runoff issues, which gives the larger working group the capability to analyze this large-scale data and devise appropriate solutions. Farmers are heavily embedded into this research with on-site gathering of water samples for nutrient analysis, and sequencing of pathogens from containment ponds. This work is identifying critical control points where they can target specific technologies to reduce issues caused by drought, pollution, competition for water resources and concerns about environmental impacts. Ultimately, this will be distilled into a series of decision support tools, which will help growers adjust irrigation practices to reduce nutrient and agrochemical runoff, as well as increase the efficiency of water resources.

“Quite a bit of this work has never been done before on farms,” said Lea-Cox. “We have already seen some exciting statistics as a result, including numerous instances where sensor systems have reduced irrigation by at least 50%, saving not only millions of gallons of water, but allowing farmers to irrigate more land with the water they have saved. Our hope is that these trends in adoption continue and that we can help improve the economic viability of growers as well as overall plant, human and environmental health.”

The group plans to conduct a follow up survey in 2022 to determine how growers have adopted these new tools and strategies, to address barriers to adoption. This project is supported, in part, through USDA’s NIFA by the Multistate Research Fund established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act to encourage and enhance multi-state, multi-disciplinary research on critical national or regional issues.     

 Photo Credit: Edwin RemsbergNov 16, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

Pioneer Health Research from Veterinary Medicine Professor Attracts Over $2.3 Million in New Funding

Research - Wed, 2017-11-01 10:46
Cryptococcus stain; Dr. Meiqing Shi

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has a strong commitment to health, and Associate Professor Dr. Meiqing Shi in the Department of Veterinary Medicine is bolstering that commitment through unmatched research in his field. With Dr. Shi’s expertise in fungal infections and his extensive training in a very rare and unique type of analysis known as intravital microscopy, he was the first person in the world to look at fungal progression in the brain in actual live samples. Today, the college announces two large grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling over $2.3 million to fund Dr. Shi’s important and innovative research.

Infections can come in many different forms and from many different places. Some are bacterial, some are viral, and some are fungal. Many people don’t think about the distinction, but different types of infections work in distinct ways throughout the body, and have distinct treatment methods. For example, meningitis can be caused by a fungus called Cryptococcus. One million people per year are infected, and more alarmingly 60% of those infected will die from the disease (600,000 per year). Cryptococcosis is an opportunistic infection that occurs in people with weakened immune systems, including HIV/AIDS patients, organ transplant recipients, cancer patients, and many others. It is actually the top killer for patients with HIV.

The problem with studying this deadly fungal infection is that it gets into the brain so quickly, by the time you examine a tissue sample, you learn little to nothing about the actual infection process. The fungus has no problem getting into the brain, but our medications do. In order to develop appropriate treatment strategies and medications, we need to understand this process.

This case invites the intravital microscopy process. Using this innovative and unique technique, you can see the immune cells, fungal cells, and progression of the infection all with distinct color markers and in real time in a living sample. This data is much more useful and valuable for the study of infection and disease progression.

Dr. Shi is not only showcasing our college’s commitment to human health and well-being, but he is also making our college and The University of Maryland a standout institution. He is one of a relatively small group around the world extensively trained in this technique, and he is the pioneer researcher applying this technique to fungal infections like Cryptococcosis. His research will focus on both how the immune cells interact with the fungus, and how the fungus passes into the brain. With this research, scientists can work towards a treatment to combat this deadly fungal infection.

Photo Credit: Yale Rosen; Edwin RemsbergNov 1, 2017Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Flying Dog Brewery and University of Maryland Partner on Hops Production Initiative

Research - Wed, 2017-07-19 16:11
Hops Trial at Western Maryland Research Center

Maryland’s largest brewery and the University of Maryland (UMD) are committed to developing the highest quality ingredients for Maryland beer.

Flying Dog has engaged with UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in a partnership that will allow them to work side-by-side on the future of beer-centric agriculture in the region. To start, the focus is on hops.

“Hop farming in the state of Maryland continues to grow, and what we appreciate most about the program is the practical approach to the business of beer agriculture,” Matt Brophy, chief operating officer for Flying Dog, said. “It’s equal parts commitment to the development of our existing farms and providing local breweries with the highest quality ingredients.”

Hops used in craft beer production need to meet the same quality standards that are achieved in traditional hop growing regions of the world. Understanding this dynamic, UMD has established a replicated variety trial using 24 varieties of hops at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center (WMREC) in Keedysville, Maryland. The trials will collect critical information on how Maryland’s unique climate affects harvest date, levels of acids and oil in the hops, and any special aspects of profile.

“I am thrilled to be part of a partnership with a business leader in the state that has the foresight to help an entire industry grow using research-based information,” Bryan Butler, extension agent for UMD, said.

The current planting consists of 24 varieties of hops with each variety replicated three times. The first 12 varieties – planted in 2016  – were selected from discussions with academic and industry experts on what might perform well in this area and what was being used by brewers. The second 12 varieties were selected based on an informal survey of Maryland growers and brewers to establish what might be most marketable in this region.

As a land grant institution, the University of Maryland aims to provide information to producers on the viability and marketability of these varieties, as producers will need research-based details on not only varieties, but also disease, insect and fertility management specific to the mid-Atlantic, quality analysis of harvested hops and economic viability of hops as a crop.

To compliment the program, Flying Dog will help fund hop processing equipment for UMD and provide resources to analyze and evaluate each test crop the program harvests. Flying Dog will also develop beers using those hops, eliciting feedback from and exposing craft beer fans to the full potential of local hops.

“One of the most critical components of data collection for this trial is the timing of harvest because it directly affects the value of the crop,” Butler said. “Harvesting must be done consistently, and within a narrow window of time, to ensure maximum production, quality, and comparison of varieties. Flying Dog’s partnership will allow us to invest in a harvester, which will ensure that hops are harvested properly, and that data on each yield is realistic and relevant to growers.”

A culmination of these hop trials will be an annual guide that both UMD and Flying Dog will produce on growing hops in the mid-Atlantic, which will summarize best management practices specific to this region, something Brophy thinks is crucial to the continued growth and development of local hop farms.

UMD will also work with Flying Dog on the East Coast Hop Project, a limited-edition variety pack slated for release in the spring of 2018. It will feature three different beers, each one highlighting a different East Coast hop farm and regionally-viable hop varieties. Black Locust Hops, located in northern Baltimore County, and Pleasant Valley Hops, located in Rohrersville, Maryland, have already signed onto the project.

“By promoting and engaging East Coast hop farms, Flying Dog and UMD hope to accelerate both supply and demand for quality local hops,” Brophy said.

About Flying Dog Brewery:

As one of the fastest-growing regional craft breweries in the mid-Atlantic, Flying Dog has been brewing world-class beer that pushes the confines of traditional styles for almost 25 years. Flying Dog attracts everyone from craft beer connoisseurs to those just catching the wave with up to 20 styles available at any given time and its Gonzo ties to writer Hunter S. Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman. Named the Mid-Size Craft Brewery of the Year at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival (the highest honor for its size in the United States), recent accolades for Flying Dog include its Pale Ale ranked as the #1 American Pale Ale in the U.S. by The New York Times. For more information, please visit


About UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources:

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland is shaped by a commitment to its land-grant heritage and mission to integrate academics, Extension and research. We are dedicated to discovering new approaches and ideas through cutting edge research, and tackling the challenges of a rapidly changing world, locally and globally, to create a sustainable future. 


For Flying Dog Brewery
Erin Weston
Senior Director of Communications
301-694-7899 ext. 101

For UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Graham Binder
Director of Communications

Jul 19, 2017Author: Erin Weston and Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

UMD-Led Research in Bloodless Worms Reveals How Organs Communicate their Status of Life-Giving Heme

Research - Tue, 2017-06-06 15:31

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Scientists at the University of Maryland and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified for the first time a signaling system by which organs within an animal can communicate their need for heme, an iron-containing ring required for oxygen transport and many other life-sustaining biological processes.

The findings, published June 5 in the journal Nature Cell Biology, are the latest of several major findings by University of Maryland Professor of Animal and Avian Sciences Iqbal">">Iqbal Hamza and his group that fill in key pieces in the puzzle of how animals prioritize and allocate their need for heme and safely move it within the body.

By enclosing otherwise toxic iron in a protective molecular cage, heme makes it possible for organisms to use iron’s life-enabling ability to bind to oxygen and other gases.  Heme is best known as a key component of hemoglobin, the protein in oxygen-carrying red blood cells. However, heme in the form of other hemoproteins, also is involved in other crucial biological processes such as energy transfer within cells, muscle formation, and immune system and circadian (internal) clock functions. Maintenance of homeostatic heme levels is vitally important in humans and other animals.  

In the new paper, Hamza and coauthors at UMD and NIH show how organs in the roundworm (C. elegans) communicate their heme status using a previously unknown system that has two components. The team identified the first component as HRG-7, an enzyme secreted from the worm intestine that communicates the heme levels in the intestine to the other tissues. They found that the HRG-7 heme signaling is reciprocally regulated by a second component found in the nervous system, a signaling substance called BMP-5, that “handshakes” with the HRG-7 protein to allow two-way transmission of information about heme levels between the intestine and the other tissues.  

“A long-held paradigm has been that cells within an animal live and die with their heme load and don’t transport heme between cells and organs,” said Hamza, a professor in UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. According to this paradigm, tissues meet their heme requirements exclusively by making it within individual cells.  “These cells use iron -- taken in from the environment or derived from breakdown of hemoglobin or other hemoproteins -- to build new heme molecules from scratch through a complex eight step synthesis process.”

However, Hamza and his team say their new findings of inter-tissue communication of heme levels in the simple roundworm – taken together with recent findings from other researchers demonstrating that heme itself can act as a signaling molecule to determine the fate of certain cell types – suggest that animals maintain optimal tissue levels of heme by tissue cross-talk and by re-appropriating heme between them.  In effect, organs maintain heme homeostasis using both in-cell synthesis and the transport of environmental heme from neighboring cells and tissues.

The researchers note in their paper that for each of the components of this newly uncovered HRG-7-mediated signaling pathway there is evidence that homologous components exist in humans and other vertebrates. “It is conceivable that an analogous... signaling pathway may exist in humans to regulate iron and heme metabolism,” they say.

A History of Heme Discoveries

This latest finding builds on a number of previous studies led by Hamza. This includes research that found roundworms use HRG-1 proteins for the process of transporting into their intestines heme obtained from bacteria ingested by the worms from the soil where they live.  And a 2013"> paper showed that this same HRG1 transporter protein permits humans to recycle over 5 million red blood cells per second in the spleen and liver.  In a 2011 paper in Cell, Hamza and colleagues revealed that roundworms have an HRG-3 protein used as an intercellular heme chaperone in transporting heme from the mother to her embryos. One outgrowth of this earlier work is a company, Rakta Therapeutics, Inc., started by Hamza that focuses on developing anti-parasitic drugs that specifically target a parasite's variation of HRG1 and HRG3 transporters.

Hamza first started trying to uncover the secrets of heme transport in 2003. After  briefly and unsuccessfully studying the question of heme-carrying proteins in traditional yeast and mice models, Hamza switched to C. elegans, an animal that doesn't make heme, but needs it to survive, that doesn't even have blood, but shares a number of genes essential for blood formation in humans.

According to Hamza and his colleagues, these “bloodless worms” have multiple benefits for studying heme communication and transport. These include the ability to control heme ingestion, to manipulate both intracellular heme levels and gene expression of transporter and signaling proteins. And, because the skin of C. elegans is transparent, use of fluorescent tracers and microscopes allows researchers to monitor heme levels, heme transport and heme signaling throughout an entire live animal.

Inter-organ signaling by HRG-7 promotes systemic heme homeostasis, Nature Cell Biology, (date, volume, etc.): Jason Sinclair, Katherine Pinter, Tamika Samuel, Simon Beardsley, Xiaojing Yuan, Jianbing Zhang, Kevin Meng, Sijung Yun* , Michael Krause* and Iqbal Hamza.  

Nature Cell Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/ncb3539


This work was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health grant R01DK074797 and by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The C. elegans genome-wide RNAi screen was funded by the Roche Foundation for Anemia Research.

 Jun 6, 2017Author: Lee Tune
Categories: Research News

Nation's Beekeepers Lost 33 Percent of Bees in 2016-17

Research - Thu, 2017-05-25 13:48
Annual losses improved over last year; winter losses lowest in survey history

College Park, MD -- Beekeepers across the United States lost 33 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2016 to April 2017, according to the latest preliminary results of an annual nationwide survey. Rates of both winter loss and summer loss—and consequently, total annual losses—improved compared with last year.

Total annual losses were the lowest since 2011-12, when the survey recorded less than 29 percent of colonies lost throughout the year. Winter losses were the lowest recorded since the survey began in 2006-07. 

The survey, which asks both commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track the survival rates of their honey bee colonies, is conducted each year by the nonprofit Bee">">Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America. Survey results for this year and all previous years are publicly">">publicly available on the Bee Informed website. 

“While it is encouraging that losses are lower than in the past, I would stop short of calling this ‘good’ news,” said Dennis">">Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at">">entomology at the University of Maryland and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership. “Colony loss of more than 30 percent over the entire year is high. It’s hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses.” 

Beekeepers who responded to the survey lost a total of 33.2 percent of their colonies over the course of the year. This marks a decrease of 7.3 percentage points over the previous study year (2015-16), when loss rates were found to be 40.5 percent. Winter loss rates decreased from 26.9 percent in the previous winter to 21.1 percent this past winter, while summer loss rates decreased from 23.6 percent to 18.1 percent.

The researchers noted that many factors are contributing to colony losses, with parasites and diseases at the top of the list. Poor nutrition and pesticide exposure are also taking a toll, especially among commercial beekeepers. These stressors are likely to synergize with each other to compound the problem, the researchers said. 

“This is a complex problem,” said Kelly">">Kelly Kulhanek, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who helped with the survey. “Lower losses are a great start, but it’s important to remember that 33 percent is still much higher than beekeepers deem acceptable. There is still much work to do.”

The number one culprit remains the varroa mite, a lethal parasite that can easily spread between colonies. Mite levels in colonies are of particular concern in late summer, when bees are rearing longer-lived winter bees.

In the fall months of 2016, mite levels across the country were noticeably lower in most beekeeping operations compared with past years, according to the researchers. This is likely due to increased vigilance on the part of beekeepers, a greater availability of mite control products and environmental conditions that favored the use of timely and effective mite control measures. For example, some mite control products contain essential oils that break down at high temperatures, but many parts of the country experienced relatively mild temperatures in the spring and early summer of 2016.

This is the 11th year of the winter loss survey, and the seventh year to include summer and annual losses. More than 4,900 beekeepers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia responded to this year’s survey. All told, these beekeepers manage about 13 percent of the nation’s estimated 2.78 million honey bee colonies.

The survey is part of a larger research effort to understand why honey bee colonies are in such poor health, and what can be done to manage the situation. Some crops, such as almonds, depend entirely on honey bees for pollination. Honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually.

“Bees are good indicators of the health of the landscape as a whole,” said Nathalie">">Nathalie Steinhauer, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who leads the data collection efforts for the annual survey. “Honey bees are strongly affected by the quality of their environment, including flower diversity, contaminants and pests. To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbors to keep healthy bees. Honey bee health is a community matter.”


A summary of the 2016-2017 survey results is available upon request prior to May 25, 2017; thereafter the results will be added to previous years’ results publicly available on the Bee">">Bee Informed Partnership’s website.

Media Relations Contact: Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267, mewright">">

University of Maryland
College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
2300 Symons Hall
College Park, MD 20742">



Photo Credit: University of Maryland/Bee Informed Partnership May 25, 2017Author: Matt Wright
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Scientists Unveil First-Ever Study of Urbanization Impact on Soils in Multiple Cities

Research - Thu, 2017-05-11 14:49
Findings illustrate difficulty in establishing trees and increased nutrient deficiency through loss of an important microbeUrban Greenspace

College Park, MD -- Urban soils provide extensive ecosystem services that properly regulate the surrounding environment for all living organisms. Nutrient management, water purification, and plant growth are on the short list, but can become compromised by urbanization. To understand the deeper effects of urbanization on city soils, a team of researchers including Stephanie Yarwood, associate professor in UMD’s Environmental Science and Technology department have published a first-of-its-kind study examining microbial communities in these soils within five different cities. Results uncovered an alarming decrease in ectomycorrhizal fungi, an important organism that enhances plant growth and improves overall health of soils through stabilization and aggregation. This study offers clear evidence of how human urbanization may lead to a decline in diversity of unique populations of microbes on a global scale, in some cases those that have profound implications for human quality of life.

The absence of ectomycorrhizal fungi in soils makes it difficult for trees to establish in urban locations, causing nutrient deficiencies that may require the addition of synthetic fertilizers. As more people move into cities, recent research suggests that human health is improved when the city includes abundant greenspace. Trees are fundamental to improving air quality and are proven locations for folks to relieve stress.

Furthermore, through an examination of the biogeography (distribution of species among different geographical areas) of microbial communities, Yarwood determined that there are unique local populations of ectomycorrhizae. Due to the overall decrease in these organisms combined with the existence of aforementioned local populations, she and her graduate student are able to conclude that urbanization contributes to a loss of global biodiversity.

“We are excited to unveil this first-ever comparison of five cities on three continents to report an important, impactful global trend, vs. a single study and location which has been tackled in the past,” said Stephanie Yarwood, PhD of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “This study demonstrates the need to maintain viable soil and plant areas that continue to serve as natural habitats for microorganisms such as ectomycorrhizae. At its core, this is a human health issue, and we hope our research influences city residents to become more aware of the importance of improving their soils.”

To facilitate this widespread understanding of the effects of urbanization on microbial communities, Yarwood and her team collected samples as part of the Global Urban Soil Ecological Education Network, which, as its website explains “develops experimental protocols that are simple to adopt across many habitat types and soil conditions in urban areas across the world”. This represents an innovative grassroots effort to coordinate international research about the effects of urbanization on microbial communities, one that Yarwood hopes will serve as a model for valuable new insights into emerging global trends.

In collaboration with researchers from USDA Forest Service, Johns Hopkins University, University of Helsinki, North-West University (South Africa), University of Veterinary Science (Budapest) and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Yarwood recently completed a manuscript titled “Urbanization">">Urbanization erodes ectomycorrhizal fungal diversity and may cause microbial communities to converge” which was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. 

Photo Credit: Marcelo Campi under Creative Commons License - 11, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Investigates Resistance to Glyphosate (Roundup) on Weeds in Major Crop Systems

Research - Wed, 2017-04-12 11:58
This novel resistance to a mainstream herbicide has multi-billion dollar impact on food and feed productionTreated and untreated plants

College Park, MD -- Glyphosate, or “Roundup” as it is labeled commercially is used extensively to combat weeds in corn, soybean and cotton cropping systems. Widespread use has led to a growing number of glyphosate resistant weeds, which has a major impact on food and feed production, with estimates of yield losses at $13 billion per year in the United States. Burkhard Schulz, assistant professor in UMD’s Plant Science and Landscape Architecture department and his group have uncovered the mechanism and cause of glyphosate resistance in giant ragweed, one of the most detrimental weeds in the corn and soybean belt of the Midwest. Their findings describe a novel rapid response system that has not been found in any other plant species and has yet to be described in any other system.

The mechanism for glyphosate resistance in giant ragweed features a process that leads to detoxification of the herbicide which prompts re-growth of the weed and a subsequent crowding out of crop plants. Schulz’s analysis of physiological responses to glyphosate resistance extend far beyond a simple quantification of the weed’s resistance level, creating new models and pathways for future herbicide resistance research.

Schulz reports that without the efficacy of herbicides for food and feed production, losses could potentially slide to $45 billion per year. Additionally, the use of glyphosate in our food system has prompted several contentious issues, most notably concern over environmental and health burdens. These findings represent an important talking point in the discussion over effective use, safety of and possible reduction of chemical inputs in food production.

“This is the type of discovery that is highly applicable to a broad population because of the widespread use of roundup in agricultural production and as a tool to control weed growth in residential environments,” said Burkhard Schulz, Ph.D of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “It’s a hot button issue, one that demands attention and focus to support growers with a simple weed control solution, and to reverse multi-billion dollar losses due to widespread herbicide resistance.”

Moving forward, Schulz aims to develop tactics to dis-arm the plant defense system that enables giant ragweed survival after toxic doses of glyphosate. Ultimately, his goal is to once again make the weed susceptible to glyphosate and to design strategies for identification and subsequent isolation of herbicide resistance genes from the resistant plants.

In collaboration with researchers from Colorado State University, USDA, Purdue University, Oregon State University, University of Guelph, Washington University and Monsanto, Schulz completed two manuscripts which were recently published in the journal Pest Management Science. The first is titled">"> ">">“Glyphosate resistance in Ambrosia">">Ambrosia trifida:">">: I. Novel rapid cell death response to glyphosate and the second “Glyphosate">">Glyphosate resistance in Ambrosia">">Ambrosia trifida:">">: II. Rapid response physiology and non-target site resistance”.

Apr 12, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Develops Model to Prevent E. coli Outbreaks in Leafy Greens

Research - Thu, 2017-03-23 11:53
Contamination of soil with wild pig and cattle feces has direct correlation to E. coli prevalence in California leafy greens Leafy green produce

College Park, MD -- It is widely recommended that adults and children eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to round out a healthy and nutritious diet. Leafy vegetable consumption poses a unique problem in that they are generally consumed raw, which increases the risk of transmitting foodborne illness. California is responsible for more than 75% of leafy greens grown in the U.S. and during 1999-2008, it has produced leafy greens with a significant concentration of E. coli outbreaks from July to November. In order to understand the pathway of E. coli in leafy green production, University of Maryland researchers have developed the first dynamic system model which simulates the effects of soil, irrigation, cattle, wild pig and rainfall in a hypothetical farm.

Results of the system model conclude that the peak July to November timeframe is consistent with the prevalence of E. coli in cattle and wild pig feces in the Salinas Valley, a major leafy greens producing region in California. This finding was the most evident after examining results of various scenarios. From this, the research team has concluded that the concentration of E. coli in leafy greens can be significantly reduced if feces contamination is controlled. By measuring the numerous factors associated with leafy green contamination in a farm setting, UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers a significant contribution to the science-based process of preventing leafy greens outbreaks in the future.  

“Leafy vegetables were associated with over 600 outbreaks in the U.S. from 1973-2012, causing more than 20,000 illnesses and 1,000 hospitalizations. Among the bacterial pathogens, E. coli, which was responsible for about 50 outbreaks, more than 1,600 illnesses, and 450 hospitalizations, is of more concern. Results of our study can help prevent crop contamination at the preharvest stage, reducing the number of leafy green related illnesses in the future,” said Abani K. Pradhan, Ph.D. of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “We are excited that this research blends our team’s knowledge of food safety and computational microbiology, and allows us to estimate the impact of various sources of contamination which pose threats to our food supply and security.”

This result has implications for future research directions, for the team here at UMD and elsewhere. According to Pradhan, this model can be extended or adopted to examine other crops that are affected by harmful pathogens, aside from E. coli. Pradhan’s team is currently exploring system models for tomatoes and cucumbers in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In collaboration with a researcher from Rutgers University, Pradhan and his team completed a manuscript titled “A System Model for Understanding the Role of Animal Feces as a Route of Contamination of Leafy Greens before Harvest,” which was recently"> published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 



Mar 23, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

Celebrating Women in Agriculture - Women's History Month

Research - Wed, 2017-03-15 12:55
Featuring Several Women Faculty Members Throughout March

This March, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources celebrates Women's History Month by paying tribute to several of our women faculty who are making exceptional strides in their research and for their stellar reputation as educators and mentors for our students and state residents.

We will feature four faculty members from now until the end of March, each with a graphic and quote that represents their contributions to the field of agriculture, to our college and the University as a whole. 

To kickstart our "Celebrating Women in Agriculture" campaign, we hope you enjoy getting to know Lisa Taneyhill, an associate professor in our Animal and Avian Sciences department. 

We will follow with Margaret Udahogora, the Dietetics Program Director in our department of Nutrition and Food Science, Manami Brown, Baltimore City Extension Director and 4-H educator and Victoria Chanse, an associate professor in our deparment of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. 

Mar 15, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Develops New CRISPR-Cpf1 Gene Editing System for Plants

Research - Mon, 2017-02-27 06:13
Plant scientist improves efficiency of CRISPR technology to help breed productive and resilient crops for global food supplyYiping Qi

College Park, MD -- Yiping Qi, an assistant professor from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has developed an upgrade to gene editing technology in plants. This new model is based on the CRISPR-Cpf1, a newer addition to the CRISPR system, which was named as “Breakthrough of the Year” by Science in 2015. Qi’s technology has the potential to establish highly efficient editing systems in crop plants, which will help to ensure the security of our global food system and feed a rapidly growing world population.

While prior groups have utilized CRISPR-Cpf1 on plants, gene editing frequencies have generally been below 50%. Qi’s research utilizes self-cleaving ribozymes - a ribonucleic (RNA) molecule capable of acting as an enzyme - to facilitate precise processing of CRISPR RNA, the key RNA component that mediates DNA targeting. These results established a new system that delivered 100% mutations of target genes in rice crop. This represents a new and cost-effective breeding tool that will help generate elite plant varieties in agriculture within a few generations.  In the same study, the CRISPR-Cpf1 system was also successfully repurposed as a strong gene silencing tool as demonstrated in the plant Arabidopsis, a model organism for studying plant biology.

“This is a very exciting time in CRISPR research, and I’m pleased to unveil this new development in gene editing technology for plants. As scientists and as representatives of our state’s land-grant, we are committed to improving the lives and livelihoods of our residents, and this offers a new approach to growing resilient crops,” said Dr. Qi. “The College of Agriculture is very focused on protecting our nation’s agriculture enterprise and ensuring a sufficient global food supply and I’m excited to help contribute to this important mission throughout advancement in technology.”

In collaboration with researchers from East Carolina University, University of Minnesota and two other Universities in China, Qi and his team recently produced a paper titled “A CRISPR-Cpf1 system for efficient genome editing and transcriptional repression in plants,” which was">"> recently published in the research journal Nature Plants. Qi is interested in applying this CRISPR-Cpf1 system in other plant species, including major crops such as maize and wheat. He’s also hoping to encourage other researchers to test his strategy in different organisms for potential improvement of editing efficiency with Cpf1.

Feb 27, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

College Partners with USDA-NIFA to Protect our Nation’s Agriculture Enterprise

Research - Tue, 2017-02-21 10:08
Nationwide leaders in academia, industry and government convened at UMD to develop tactical scientific strategies to respond to bio-threatsTactical Sciences Call to Conversation at UMD

College Park, MD -- This past week, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources hosted a diverse group of representatives from federal, university, commodity groups and regulatory organizations to have a conversation on the tactical sciences for the protection of the US agriculture enterprise. In partnership with USDA-NIFA, this first-of-its-kind meeting convened several of our nation’s leading organizations and experts to develop a cohesive strategy and unified voice to take to decision makers for consideration of support and policy, especially the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy delivered a motivating charge to the group, asking attendees to consider their individual and collective roles in protecting our food system and overall public health interests from damaging biosecurity threats.

To kick off the two-day summit, Dean Craig Beyrouty discussed the importance of this partnership, and highlighted some specific forces that are laying siege to the integrity of our food supply, namely a changing climate, limited water and land resources and agroterrorism. As the cornerstone of the University’s land-grant mission, the college is uniquely positioned and committed to ensuring a safe and secure global food system, through a hybrid of research and educational programs, and practical application in the community. Provost Mary Ann Rankin followed Dean Beyrouty, who committed University support to the outcome of the deliberations. 

Sonny Ramaswamy spoke next with dedication and passion to six phrases that he felt should form the construct of the conversation between invitees. In asking the group what more they can do as individuals and as members of different communities to ensure the security of our food system, Ramaswamy emphasized the concepts of: 

  • Transforming lives through the delivery of knowledge to the end user

  • Identifying the existential threat

  • National security

  • Challenges and opportunities

  • A vision for a path forward

  • A charge to the group to determine our nation’s tactical sciences efforts

The college is proud to play a leading role in helping to carry out Sonny Ramaswamy’s vision, and to help create a shared vision of the need to protect our global food systems.  

Photo Credit: Lena McBeanFeb 21, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

College Partners with NIFA to Protect our Nation’s Agriculture Enterprise

Research - Tue, 2017-02-21 10:08
Nationwide leaders in academia, industry and government convened at UMD to develop tactical scientific strategies to respond to bio-threatsTactical Sciences Call to Conversation at UMD

College Park, MD -- This past week, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources hosted a diverse group of representatives from federal, university, commodity groups and regulatory organizations to have a conversation on the tactical sciences for the protection of the US agriculture enterprise. In partnership with USDA-NIFA, this first-of-its-kind meeting convened several of our nation’s leading organizations and experts to develop a cohesive strategy and unified voice to take to decision makers for consideration of support and policy, especially the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy delivered a motivating charge to the group, asking attendees to consider their individual and collective roles in protecting our food system and overall public health interests from damaging biosecurity threats.

To kick off the two-day summit, Dean Craig Beyrouty discussed the importance of this partnership, and highlighted some specific forces that are laying siege to the integrity of our food supply, namely a changing climate, limited water and land resources and agroterrorism. As the cornerstone of the University’s land-grant mission, the college is uniquely positioned and committed to ensuring a safe and secure global food system, through a hybrid of research and educational programs, and practical application in the community. Provost Mary Ann Rankin followed Dean Beyrouty, who committed University support to the outcome of the deliberations. 

Sonny Ramaswamy spoke next with dedication and passion to six phrases that he felt should form the construct of the conversation between invitees. In asking the group what more they can do as individuals and as members of different communities to ensure the security of our food system, Ramaswamy emphasized the concepts of: 

  • Transforming lives through the delivery of knowledge to the end user

  • Identifying the existential threat

  • National security

  • Challenges and opportunities

  • A vision for a path forward

  • A charge to the group to determine our nation’s tactical sciences efforts

The college is proud to play a leading role in helping to carry out Sonny Ramaswamy’s vision, and to help create a shared vision of the need to protect our global food systems.  

Photo Credit: Lena McBeanFeb 21, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Unlocks Mystery of Increased Corn Earworm Damage to Genetically Engineered Sweet Corn

Research - Mon, 2017-01-09 05:52
UMD scientists describe evolution of corn earworm’s resistance to long relied on pest management biotechnologyCorn Earworm

College Park, MD -- Corn crops engineered with genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) express specific proteins called Cry proteins, which have been a major combatant against damage from agricultural insect pests. In 2015, 81% of all corn planted was genetically engineered with Bt. Recently however, certain states have experienced increased ear damage, most notably North Carolina and Georgia, setting the stage for risk of damage to corn production across a large portion of the country. Two decades of field experiments by University of Maryland researchers have concluded that corn earworm populations are increasingly damaging to corn crops, confirming that previously effective Cry proteins expressed by genetically engineered corn are a weakened management tool.

Dr. Galen Dively, Professor Emeritus in UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources predicts that corn earworm resistance to Cry proteins is likely to increase, and spread. His team’s results have broad implications for profitable corn production, biotechnology regulatory policies and sustainability of the Bt biotechnology.

Prior resistance development to Bt crops has been reported in five insect species, but all have been in response to single Cry protein expressing crops. Dively’s paper is the first report of corn earworm resistance to multiple, or pyramided Cry proteins expressed by genetically modified corn. Furthermore, this report illuminates a need for more widespread resistance monitoring for all registered Cry proteins, including the midwestern corn belt. Previously, resistance testing on corn earworm and other caterpillars has only taken place in southern production regions where Bt corn and cotton are prevalent.  

“My team is pleased to bring this information to the forefront of the farming and biotechnology industries, but recognize there is still much work to do in understanding the evolution of how corn earworm developed resistance to Cry proteins,” says Dively. “Unfortunately, with the realization of this resistance, many sweet corn farmers in Maryland have stopped growing Bt corn and by extension are applying more insecticide to combat pest infestation. Increased insecticide use is a time-consuming and hazardous long term approach which provide strong motivation to find a comparable solution to Bt biotechnology."  

Dively’s report, “Field-evolved Resistance in Corn Earworm to Cry Proteins Expressed by Transgenic Sweet Corn”, was recently accepted and published by PLOS ONE, a comprehensive academic journal featuring reports of original research from all scientific disciplines. It can be accessed here">

 Photo Credit: Michael Rogers Under Creative Commons License - 9, 2017Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Researcher Advocates For Precaution and Governance of Emerging Technologies

Research - Wed, 2016-11-30 08:48
Report explores gene drive technology as key example

College Park, MD -- In the wake of her contribution to a 2016 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) on gene drive research, Lisa Taneyhill, Ph.D., is again on the national stage as an advocate for precaution and governance of emerging technologies utilizing gene drive exploration as a precedent. The academic journal Science has just published Taneyhill’s article aptly titled, Precaution and governance of emerging technologies, a piece that makes the case for “constraints on the use of technology whose outcomes include potential harms and are characterized by high levels of complexity and uncertainty.” While she is transparent about the potential benefits of research on gene drives, the report is an intricate examination of how precaution and support for the science should be synergistic. Taneyhill has produced this article with select colleagues from an NAS convened committee of experts put in place to facilitate a more measured approach to research and governance of gene drive technology.

Taneyhill argues that precaution should be observed as a contextual approach vs. a broadly defined high-level principle. Critics contend that precaution is generally irrational and paralyzing, and sets impossible demands, which implies a “give up” attitude precluding any future realization of the technology’s potential benefits. Taneyhill’s contextual approach begins from first understanding the science, how the science might be used and the ripple effects of its usage. Her report recommends research on gene drives under four broadly defined constraints, with full transparency into how benefits make prohibiting the research a moot point, and how drawbacks make quick commitment a dangerous idea.

“This report should not be construed as placing a barricade in front of gene drive research. We are simply recommending a series of checkpoints and considerations before jumping into the deep end,” says Taneyhill. “There are many objections to precaution, two of which are “risk panic” which is the concept of precaution rooted in emotion, and the idea of it being too vague and ambiguous to be useful. We understand these concerns, but there is fundamental uncertainty in gene drive research, which could lead to an environmental imbalance. The range of effects needs to be considered, studied and measured.”

Taneyhill’s report can be accessed at:">"> As background, it may be instructive to review her NAS report, Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values at


Lisa Taneyhill is available for media commentary. Her contact information is contained here">">here.

Nov 30, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

Extension Launches New Research-Based Initiative for UMD Grown Hops

Research - Thu, 2016-11-17 12:16
Mt. Airy's Milkhouse brewery creates limited edition rye pale ale

Mt Airy, MD. -- University of Maryland Extension had a very proud moment on Wednesday night as its first ever hop trials were featured in a limited edition rye pale ale, brewed by Milkhouse Brewery, Maryland's first farm brewery located on the outskirts of Frederick. In the words of Tom Barse, Milkhouse Brewery owner, "this was the best first-year hop yard I've ever seen." From 4-6 pm, local brewers, hop producers, state legislators, University of Maryland employees and other special invitees mingled on the Milkhouse property in celebration of Extension's successful effort, one that will lay the groundwork for future research-based work with hops. 

This is a distinct point of pride for Extension, the College of AGNR and the University as a whole as it demonstrates the quality of UMD grown products and positions UMD as a major resource for the brewing industry in Maryland. Aside from the excitement surrounding the first-ever beer produced with UMD grown hops, the event was predominantly a celebration of Bryan Butler, UME Extension Agent, and his highly reviewed hop trials at the Western Maryland Research & Education Center for the future benefit of MD hop producers and brewers.

In 2017, Butler plans to yield 24 new varieties of hops, as well as barley. Brewers will have the opportunity to examine and provide feedback on the hops prior to being sent to labs for more scientific data. Butler envisions a highly collaborative relationship with MD brewers to support their production needs. The educational component is the underlying mission of this project and is at the core of the University's land-grant mission to serve as a top-tier resource for state residents. 

This opportunity afforded through Extension also has profound implications for farm brewers. With the rapid expansion of the brewing industry throughout the state, local farms have been able to take advantage of a 2012 law allowing on-site brewing, which also mandates the use of locally grown hops. This is a huge win-win for farmers looking for additional avenues of sustainability and for tourists who want a tighter glimpse into farm life. 

Research conducted by UME faculty is supported by the Maryland Ag. Experiment Station (MAES) Research and Education Center, which funds and fosters College of AGNR research at all levels. MAES research is conducted both on campus, within the academic units and off-campus in four Research and Education Centers consisting">"> consisting of eight facilities that represent diverse physiographic and land resource regions.


Photo Credit: Edwin RemsbergNov 17, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Plant Scientist Identifies Gene to Combat Crippling Wheat Disease

Research - Wed, 2016-11-09 08:48
Fhb1 gene poised to control rot in several other horticulture crops, scaling back billions in losses Wheat Scab

College Park, MD -- A major breakthrough in the cloning of a resistance gene to eliminate wheat scab -- a widespread disease responsible for drastic reductions in crop yield as well as millions of dollars in annual losses worldwide -- has been achieved by Nidhi Rawat, an assistant professor within the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. This discovery has broad implications for the future as a promising source of resistance to not only wheat scab, but a variety of similar host plants affected by the fungal pathogen known as Fusarium graminearum. Ultimately, once the nature of gene action is known, the findings can be applied to control other Fusarium species which causes rot in cucurbit, tomato and potato to name a few.

Fusarium graminearum produces a toxin that makes the infected crop unfit for human and animal consumption. James Anderson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at the University of Minnesota, said there are frequent epidemics of the disease reported in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and South America.

Historically, wheat scab -- otherwise known as Fusarium Head Blight -- has been a very difficult problem to solve. 20 years of research that includes input from scientists in China and several American Universities has been slow to produce results, with resistance only found in a select group of local Chinese plants. Until now, nothing was known about the Fhb1 gene and its ability to provide broad-spectrum resistance. Rawat is part of a multi-University team, with researchers from Kansas State University, University of Minnesota, and Washington State University, that used sophisticated wheat genome sequencing techniques to isolate the gene. Now that the DNA source of the resistance is known, processes that would take years to replicate can be done in much quicker fashion in a diagnostics lab.

“After quite a long research process into Fusarium Head Blight, we are thrilled to uncover a solution to help the international farming community combat this devastating disease,” says Dr. Rawat. “Fhb1 is very special, as only a few broad-spectrum resistance genes have been cloned so far that provide multi-pathogen resistance. The durability and applicability of Fhb1 puts it in a category all to itself and we must learn how to harness it appropriately.”

Moving forward, Rawat and her colleagues will work towards utilizing Fhb1 for solving a multitude of diseases caused by the pathogen. Research will involve optimizing the transfer of this resistance to other crops infected by Fusarium species through breeding, transgenic, cis-genic, and genome editing techniques.

Photo Credit: Crop Shot Under Creative Commons License - 9, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Researcher Discovers Solar Heat Island Effect Caused by Large-Scale Solar Power Plants

Research - Tue, 2016-11-01 10:01
Temperature rise has direct implications for local ecosystems and potential to impact human health and land-use planningSolar Site Monitoring

College Park, MD -- Mitchell">">Mitchell A. Pavao-Zuckerman, an assistant professor from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has concluded through empirical research that large-scale solar power plants raise local temperatures, creating a solar heat island effect, similar to that found in cities. This finding contradicts early modeling studies that predict a decrease in temperatures and an assumption of the efficiency and economic benefits of green power produced by solar panels. This research has potent implications for the future as we consider new plant installations and design techniques to mitigate environmental impacts.

As part of a multi-disciplinary team from the University of Arizona, University of Madison-Wisconsin, and the Nevada Center of Excellence, Pavao-Zuckerman examined the “heat island” (PVHI effect) with experiments that spanned three native desert ecosystems in Arizona: a natural desert ecosystem, the traditional built environment of a parking lot surrounded by buildings and a photovoltaic (PV) power plant (Prior studies on PVHI effect were confined to just one biome). For this study, the team defined PVHI effect as the difference in ambient air temperature between the PV power plant and the desert landscape. Findings demonstrated that temperatures over a PV plant were 3-4 °C warmer than the wildlands which is in direct contrast to earlier predictions.

This result demonstrates that there are potential costs to generating green power although ongoing measurements dissipate as you move away from the power plants. The heat island effect fundamentally changes the efficiency of solar panels, but has the potential to affect how choices are made when converting natural ecosystems into large-scale solar facilities.

“The understanding of energy balance - how heat moves in and out of ecosystems that change from natural to built settings is a big game changer for the future. Consider how PV panels absorb and reflect certain types of radiation which prevents the soil beneath from cooling like it would under a regular night sky,” said Dr. Pavao-Zuckerman. “With this knowledge at our fingertips, we can mitigate environmental impacts by creating novel systems to make PV power plants work more efficiently and produce other co-benefits.”

Pavao-Zuckerman and team produced a paper titled “The Photovoltaic Heat Island Effect: Larger solar power plants increase local temperatures”, which was">"> recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Continuing studies will focus on determining how far away from PV power plants does the temperature increase reach, and mitigating impact through such strategies as growing plants next to and under solar panels.

Photo Credit: Greg Barron-GaffordNov 1, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Professor Receives $720k Grant from NSF to Eliminate “Coffee Rust” Disease in Costa Rica

Research - Wed, 2016-10-05 12:01
Collaborative project with Ohio State University to examine several species of fungi as agents to fight pathogens within coffeeRubiaceae plant

College Park, MD -- In her quest to eradicate a devastating coffee disease called “Coffee Rust” – an issue that is plaguing Central American families who rely on coffee production to sustain their livelihood – Priscila Chaverri, PhD and two Ohio State University colleagues have received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to examine endophytic fungi as chemical producing agents to fight harmful pathogens within coffee plants. The team will also explore other more basic biological questions integrated in the genomes of these chemical-producing fungi.

At its core, this is a biological control test using one or several living organisms, in this case fungi, to control another. Traditionally, scientists have used one fungus to fight one pathogen whereas Chaverri’s research will use several species of fungi collected from wild Rubiaceae plants (coffee family) against coffee rust and other diseases to determine if they can work together in a synergistic capacity. The hope is to identify specific chemicals produced by the fungi that will be used to fight pathogens within the plant.

Chaverri aims to take her findings to the field and test the fungi from the Rubiaceae plants in coffee plantations in Costa Rica. In addition to diseases like coffee rust, there are a number of variables that have an impact on plant survival, namely insect pests and drought. Chaverri hopes to identify combinations of several fungi that will give coffee plants innate protection from a broad spectrum of harmful naturally occurring circumstances. A native Costa Rican with a particular passion for home-based extension work, Chaverri will utilize her research to teach folks involved in coffee co-ops how to find better bio-control agents that can be used to improve plant’s immune system and production.

“My colleagues at Ohio State and I are grateful to the National Science Foundation for the opportunity to work on and hopefully solve such a rampant problem that has a profound impact on the coffee industry in Central America,” said Chaverri. “Coffee co-ops sustain so many families and with this funding our work is uniquely poised to improve their livelihood and establish economic viability on a more long term basis. To date, coffee rust has claimed one billion in losses and 250,000 jobs in Central America. This is a problem that requires an immediate solution.”

The Costa Rican National Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Science and Technology recently recognized Chaverri’s commitment to scientific development in her home country through bestowment of a national award. This is the highest recognition in her field in Costa Rica, which requires nomination by two distinct colleagues and is awarded only once every two years. The Vice President of Costa Rica personally presented Chaverri with a plaque commemorating the occasion.

Photo Credit: João Medeiros Under Creative Commons License - 5, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Cracks 60-Year Code Through Discovery of Enzyme that Optimizes Plant Life

Research - Mon, 2016-09-19 11:03
UMD scientists use plant model Arabidopsis to facilitate auxin inactivity

College Park, MD -- A recent PhD graduate and assistant professor from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources have solved a riddle that scientists have been pondering for 50-60 years. Through a combination of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, physiology and metabolomics, a team in Plant Sciences and Landscape Architecture and Environmental Science and Technology led by Dr. Jun Zhang and Dr. Wendy Peer have discovered the primary way auxin is inactivated, or “turned off,” through identification and characterization of an enzyme called dioxygenase of auxin oxidation (DAO). Moving forward, plant life can be optimized through a proper balance of active auxin.

Auxin is the determining factor in how a plant grows, develops and responds to the environment. Controlling when and where and how much auxin is active via DAO can lead to crop improvement. This could have wide-ranging effects in crops from improving drought stress to increasing biomass. Benefits for the nursery industry include improved rooting of cuttings from tomatoes to trees.

Zhang and Peer use the plant model Arabidopsis to showcase the inactivation of auxin by way of DAO, facilitating a process called oxidation which turns auxin off. Despite the widespread recognition of auxin oxidation, prior to these findings, the enzymes that catalyze this process and how they work and influence plant growth were hinted at in apple and rice.

“We are excited about solving this puzzle at last,” says Dr. Wendy Peer. “Our goal is to address the world food crisis in the face of climate change. Understanding and then controlling the activity of this essential plant hormone is one of the keys to doing just that.”

A paper detailing the particular science behind the DAO function was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) under the title “DAO1 catalyzes temporal and tissue-specific oxidative inactivation of auxin in Arabidopsis thaliana.” This is one of three papers published together on this subject. UMD is demonstrating the biochemistry, physiology, and metabolomics of DAO in tandem with The Ohio State University, with Umeå Plant Science Centre, Sweden, and the University of Nottingham, UK authoring on auxin metabolomics and physiology and DAO functions in auxin homeostasis in roots, respectively.

Link">">Link to original photo in Flickr Commons.

 Photo Credit: INRA and Jean Weber Under Creative Commons License - 19, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

University of Maryland Professor Contributes to NAS Report on Gene-Drive Modified Organisms

Research - Sat, 2016-06-11 04:54
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher helps conclude that gene-drive modified organisms are not ready to be released into environment

College Park, MD – As the discussion around gene-drive modified organisms has intensified to help combat public health issues such as Zika and other infectious diseases, the National Academy of Sciences has convened an expert committee to address a measured approach to research and governance of gene drive technologies.

The University of Maryland’s Dr. Lisa Taneyhill, a leading developmental biologist and associate professor in theCollege of Agriculture and Natural Resources contributed her expertise as a member of the 15-person committee. Taneyhill, in conjunction with her colleagues produced a new report from the NAS concluding that gene-drive modified organisms are not ready to be released into the environment and require more research in laboratories and highly controlled field trials. The committee recommends a collaborative, multidisciplinary, and cautionary approach in order to sift through the uncertainty posed by this fast-moving field of study.

Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values can be accessed at: An archived recording of the report release event and a four page summary of key findings are also available through this link.

Lisa Taneyhill is available for media commentary. Her contact information is contained here.

Jun 11, 2016Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News


Maintained by the IET Department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. © 2017. Web Accessibility