College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Research News

$1.3 Million Grant Awarded to UMD Researcher to Develop Precision Breeding Techniques in Livestock

Research - Tue, 2018-07-17 16:15
Research will help combat heat stress, and improve milk yield with more efficient breeding technologies

College Park, MD —The University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has received a $1.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new cutting-edge precision breeding technologies for livestock, specifically focusing on cattle and goats. Dr. Bhanu Telugu, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, leads a team that will work to expand the scope of current breeding programs by establishing an accelerated pathway for the introduction of traits that improve heat tolerance and increase milk yield.

As a result of a changing climate, animals are suffering from heat stress in the United States and elsewhere in ways not previously seen, affecting animal welfare as well as overall production. Additionally, a growing population worldwide adds to the stress of maximizing production in the wake of diminishing resources. This gives urgency to the development of more efficient and responsive agricultural practices and breeding techniques.

“Genetic modification in livestock by humans is not a new concept,” says Telugu. “When two animals of perceived high genetic merit are bred, it leads to mixing of the genomes. This has been the backbone of genetic diversity (and evolution) and generation of unique breeds from livestock to pets.” Modern breeding techniques have already come a long way in increasing production, with research looking at the genetic makeup of animals to select and breed for beneficial traits. During the last 50 years, milk production from dairy animals in the United States was doubled by following traditional breeding paradigms and better management practices. But every time you breed two animals for a trait, you are diluting the genetic merit, like mixing blue and yellow to make green. Each offspring has a little less of the trait you want, so in order to really incorporate one new trait into a population, you traditionally need many generations of breeding, a process that takes about 15-30 years.

Now, with technologies such as CRISPR/Cas allowing for easy gene editing, Telugu is looking at what we know about genetic fragments that are linked to specific desirable traits and how we can input these traits into a population in just a single generation of breeding, taking only 3 years instead of 30. “If we have genetic scissors, and we know where to cut, then cutting and pasting the best traits into a new animal has got to be the most efficient way to incorporate a new trait,” explains Telugu. “With this work, we are not only validating the genetic research that tells us which sections matter for which specific traits, but also looking to solve serious issues that couldn’t be otherwise addressed.”

Telugu is excited to start this work and combine basic research and practical application to address global issues. “Heat stress has become a serious issue in the United States in the last decade or so,” explains Telugu. “That is how quickly these problems are growing and changing. Combine that with new emerging diseases and the need to feed 3 billion more people over the next 30 years, and we are faced with serious issues that traditional breeding methods don’t work quickly enough to solve. I am excited to be able to work on these important applications and still contribute to the greater knowledge of functional genomics, which is my focus as a researcher.”

Photo Credit: Edwin RemsbergJul 17, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

UMD Researchers Identify Genetic Mechanisms to Control Cancer-Like Growths in Mouse-ear Cress Plants with Links to Animal and Human Cells

Research - Mon, 2018-07-09 10:52
Researchers take a one health approach, shedding light on the control of cancer across plants, animals, and humansArabidopsis, or mouse-ear cress

UMD researchers have identified genetic mechanisms to control cancer-like growths in the plant Arabidopsis, commonly known as mouse-ear cress. The cancer-like tumors as a result of a mutated gene in the plant cause the formation of abnormal flowers and sterility, and the cell cycle complexes disrupted in the mutant plant work similarly in animal and human cells to regulate cell division and organ growth. Using the latest CRISPR gene editing technology, researchers are now able to correct the cancer-like behavior in the plant and have elucidated the underlying mechanisms relevant plants, animals, and humans. With this ability and a clearer understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to uncontrolled cell growth, a path can be laid to the control of plant, animal, and human cancers connected to these genes.

Mouse-ear cress is a small flowering plant closely related to mustard and cabbage plants, and it is often used as a model system given its genetic similarities across plants, animals, and humans and how easy it is to propagate. Dr. Zhongchi Liu, Affiliate Professor with the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture and Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, works with mouse-ear cress often in her research. She named the TSO1 gene she discovered in mouse-ear cress after the Chinese word for “ugly” because of the large cancer-like blobs found in the mutated plant where flowers should be.

“Cancer is caused by a series of genetic mutations that result in uncontrolled cell proliferation and failure of differentiation” explains Liu. “There are so many types of cancer because there are so many genes and combinations of mutations that can lead to this uncontrolled or abnormal growth in any tissue in the body of any plant, animal, or human. Any insight into a series of genes that contribute to uncontrolled cell proliferation and cancer-like growths can provide connections to parallel genes in animals and humans. That makes this work very exciting.”

The TSO1 gene (aka the ugly gene) is a regulatory gene whose gene product is a member of a cell cycle complex known as the DREAM complex. This complex is conserved and similar to regulatory complexes in animals and humans known to balance cell proliferation and differentiation, determining what cell should be what cell type and how much of it is needed. When these things get out of control, tumors and cancers form. “There are always multiple genes at work that control and produce one phenotype or physical trait, whether that trait is a beautiful and healthy flower or a cancer-like ‘ugly’ blob,” says Liu.

In this case, in addition to identifying the ugly gene, Liu and her team recently identified the MYB3R1 gene as another component in the DREAM complex; this second gene works together with TSO1 to control plant cell growth. “Excitingly, the MYB3R1 gene we found in the plant is highly similar in protein sequence to the MYB previously found in animals and humans,” says Liu. “We found that inactivating the MYB3R1 gene through gene editing and mutation completely reverses the blob ‘ugly’ phenotype in the plant, so normal flowers are produced and cancer-like tumors are no longer present. The genetic interactions between the ugly gene and its partner MYB gene and their functional roles in regulating healthy tissue and organ growth hadn’t been observed before, and they give us useful information about how cell growth and differentiation in tissues and across the whole body is regulated potentially not just in plants, but in animals and humans.”

This work is published in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science here.

Jul 9, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Watershed Implementation Plan workshops planned for June

Research - Wed, 2018-05-23 15:36

QUEENSTOWN — With Maryland moving closer to rolling out its Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan, representatives of state agencies overseeing Chesapeake Bay cleanup are making themselves available in person at regional workshops across the state in May and June to inform the dialogue and answer questions of local partners.

Maryland and surrounding states are involved in a large-scale cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. Part of the strategy requires local partners to identify solutions that reduce pollution to the Bay, under the umbrella of the state’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Under the TMDL, pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are required to be in place by 2025.

Maryland is soon entering its third WIP phase. The first and second phases provided a roadmap on how to achieve water quality standards and specific local actions that can be taken to achieve a reduction in harmful nutrients to waterways. Phase III will detail actions intended to be implemented between this year and 2025 to meet Bay restoration goals.

As part of the state’sengagement strategy for Phase III WIP development, officials have set dates for five workshops at locations across the state, intended to inform participants about the WIP process, provide opportunities for questions and feedback, and promote interaction between local partners and state agencies overseeing cleanup. There is one workshop scheduled for each region of the state, including Western Maryland, Central Maryland, Southern Maryland, Southern Maryland, the upper Eastern Shore and the lower Eastern Shore.

The workshops are geared toward strengthening the working relationships between state and local government entities and the nonprofit community while Maryland’s WIP is implemented.

Each workshop schedule includes a general WIP overview, information on stormwater and wastewater, an update for agricultural implementers, details on funding resources, and open question and answer discussions. Presentations will be made by staff members of the Maryland Departments of Agriculture and Environment.

Those interested in learning more about Maryland’s strategy for the Phase III WIP are invited to attend any of the five regional workshops scheduled. All workshops are free and sponsored by the University of Maryland-affiliated Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology and funded by the Town Creek Foundation.

Dates and locations for the five regional workshops are listed below. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m. and the meeting runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch will be provided to participants. RSVP is required and can be accessed through the links below.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Central Maryland

(Baltimore City & County, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery counties)

Overhills Mansion, 916 South Rolling Road, Catonsville, MD 21228

To register for Central Maryland, click here


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lower Eastern Shore

(Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, Worcester counties)

Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, Flanders Room, 500 Glen AVE, Salisbury, MD 21804

To register for Lower Eastern Shore, click here


Friday, June 15, 2018

Upper Eastern Shore

(Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's, Talbot counties)

The Milestone, 9630 Technology Drive, Easton MD 21601

To register for Upper Eastern Shore, click here


Monday, June 18, 2018

Southern Maryland

(Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George's, St. Mary's counties)

Charles Soil Conservation District, 4200 Gardiner Road, Waldorf, MD 20601

To register for Southern Maryland, click here


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Western Maryland

(Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, Washington counties)

Williamsport Banquet Hall, 2 Brandy Drive, Williamsport, MD 21795

To register for Western Maryland, click here

May 23, 2018Author: By Josh BollingerFeature On: Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc.Groups audience: Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc.
Categories: Research News

UMD Researcher Discovers Mechanisms and Epigenetic Markers with Implications for Diseases Ranging from Cancers to Infertility

Research - Mon, 2018-04-30 12:36
Research opens the door for future stem cell research in chicken models

A UMD researcher has uncovered new mechanisms that dictate the development of germline stem cells or germ cells, the only cell type capable of passing genetic information on to the next generation. Stem cell research is on the foreground of new knowledge for fighting disease, and mechanisms in this study were found to be associated with genes responsible for cancers and viral infections among other major health issues. Markers used to identify male germ cells were also discovered, exploring how environmental factors or epigenetics affect these cells and providing significant insight into treatments for male infertility. These findings not only unlock future animal and human health research in these areas, but also set the stage for chickens as a more prominent model organism for stem cell research.

Stem cell research has applications for treating cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and even injuries. These cells can replicate and replace damaged tissue, so understanding their development is important to the future of this work. Epigenetic factors, or environmental factors that affect the way genes are expressed, can also play a large role in cell and tissue development, and no studies have previously looked at the mechanisms at play in germline stem cell development and how epigenetics play a role.

“From genome to phenome as it is called is a very complicated process for different gene networks to create the trait you see in an animal or human. The activity of key genes is the same or similar in common cell types, but the activity of other genes may differ completely among species, especially for the roles of stem cells,” explains Dr. Jiuzhou Song, Professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Looking at these mechanisms helps to decode genes, understand complex traits, and develop future treatment plans to better understand animal and human health.”

That was the focus of this study, examining germ cells to clarify mechanisms that factor into germ cell development and gene expression. Specific processes were discovered for individual genes with associations to cancers and viral infections, and markers used to identify and track genes were discovered in male cells with implications for infertility treatments. These epigenetic markers are unique to chickens, which is an up and coming animal model that is in many ways ideal for the study of epigenetics, stem cells, and developmental research.

“Most people still think of mice when they think of animal models that support animal and human health research. But regulatory elements are quite similar between the chicken and human genome. In fact, the genetic similarity between a human and a chicken is about 60%. The development of chickens is rapid, easy to see, and easy to manipulate, making them very unique compared to other animal models. They are ideal for developmental and stem cell research because you can easily observe egg growth and the development process in real time,” says Song.

Dr. Song is not only devoted to this work with animal genetics and connections to human health in mind, but is also thinking about the broiler chicken industry and overall animal welfare. “This work provides a deeper understanding of developmental mechanisms in chickens that lead to healthier chickens and humans,” says Song. “The applications and need for epigenetic stem cell research is great, and chickens are a great model for this work.”

Dr. Song’s paper is published in Stem Cell Reports and can be found">here.

Apr 30, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Environmental Science and Technology Professor Invents New Tool Used to Classify and Assess Wetlands

Research - Tue, 2018-04-24 14:07
New system is more accurate, easier to use, and more environmentally friendly and sustainableNew tool to classify wetlands

A UMD researcher, Dr. Martin Rabenhorst of the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, has invented a new method for measuring the quality of wetland soils which is easier to use, more accurate, and more environmentally friendly. The new method eliminates problems by using reusable plastic tubes to insert oxide-coated plastic films into the ground for analysis, and 2D images can then be analyzed with the latest image processing and computing software. This tool helps identify essential wetland ecosystems and ensure long-term protection. Rabenhorst’s invention was nominated for UMD Invention of the Year, one of nine inventions recognized with a nomination in a field of over 170 new inventions disclosed during 2017. This invention has the potential to be widely used as the primary technique for wetland soil assessment, which is required and regulated by federal and local authorities.

The technology of using oxide coatings on plastic is called IRIS (indicator of reduction in soils), and the current method applies an iron-oxide paint to PVC pipes that are pushed into the soil and left for a month so the soil can react with the paint. As these reactions occur, the paint is partially dissolved from the tube. If 30 percent or more of the paint is stripped off, the soil is behaving like typical wetland soil. This method, however, is problematic for many reasons. “Some of the paint can rub off the tube as it is transported and when it is pushed into the ground, so that is one source of error,” says Rabenhorst. “The tube is also a 3D cylinder, which makes it difficult to accurately estimate the amount of paint that has actually been removed. You want to be able to scan the surface for analysis, but scanning a 3D tube requires specialized custom-made equipment, so that is a problem.” The current tube system also produces a lot of plastic waste. “I have used 5,000 PVC tubes over the last 10 years or so, and they can’t be reused. It’s a real problem, and it doesn’t feel very ‘green’,” says Rabenhorst.

Out of these issues came Rabenhorst’s new invention. Instead of coating PVC pipes with the iron-oxide paint, Rabenhorst has developed a method to coat thin vinyl films with the paint. These are relatively flexible and can be rolled and dropped directly into a reusable plastic delivery tube. The tube provides protection and is used to push the film into the ground, leaving the paint undisturbed. Then, the tube is removed and the film stays in the soil to react. When it is retrieved, assessors have a 2D film that is easily scanned and analyzed and provides a much more accurate assessment of soil reactivity. And, the films are small, flat, and easy to store, producing much less waste. “This is less than 5 percent of the storage volume and only 13 percent of the weight, so we end up using far less plastic,” says Rabenhorst. “And, the plastic tubes used to deploy the films are reusable, so you only need a few.”

Only in the last 40 years or so have people begun to realize the importance of wetland ecosystems. They are valued for their diversity in wildlife, as well as their natural ability to prevent floods, filter water, mediate carbon emissions, and create healthier ecosystems, waterways, and atmosphere. However, before this was known, more than 50 percent of wetlands across the United States and 70 percent across Maryland were lost over the past 200 years.

“There are three major parameters needed to classify an area as a wetland: hydrology or water, the plant community, and soil properties,” explains Rabenhorst. “These are all critical because wetlands are highly regulated and protected ecosystems. The soil is perhaps the most complicated piece of the puzzle because you have to confirm that certain biogeochemical processes are actually happening below ground where they are not easily seen. That is why having an easy-to-use tool for assessors is so important. Properly protecting these wetlands and promoting restoration is essential, but we also want to make sure not to over delineate or over regulate. Our goal is to be scientifically and environmentally responsible.”

Rabenhorst joined UMD in 1983 as a soil scientist, and his study of wetlands has been the dominant focus of his work. Rabenhorst also helps coach the soil judging team at UMD that competes and consistently places nationally, including a 2017 national championship. The wetland soils class that he established in 1991 was probably the first ever full credit college class of its kind in the country. He has dedicated himself to the study of these complex ecosystems, with the ultimate goal of bringing good science to the table in difficult regulatory settings. This means always looking for better ways to analyze and collect the data needed to make these tough calls.

“With the Chesapeake Bay as a priority, Maryland is a pretty environmentally enlightened place, and we value these ecosystems,” says Rabenhorst. “This tool gives those of us working in wetlands an easier way to do a better job, and that is exciting.”

Apr 24, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

UMD Students Win Big at the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) National Conference

Research - Mon, 2018-04-16 11:36
1st Place in the Research Poster Competition and 2nd Place in the Team Quiz BowlUMD MANRRS National Conference Participants

Adeola Adeoye, a senior Nutrition major, took first place in the competitive research poster competition earlier this month at the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS">">MANRRS) 33rd Annual Career Fair and Training Conference. This national conference is designed to foster inclusion and advance MANRRS members in their academic and professional fields, while providing opportunities for students to network, interview with interested organizations, develop leadership skills, and demonstrate their current skills and abilities. Miriam Tasker, senior Environmental Science and Technology major, also led a team of students to a second place overall finish in the quiz bowl, giving UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) a commanding presence at the national event.

The research poster contest provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to gain experience in presenting their research before an audience of peers, researchers, and professionals. Adeoye’s presentation entitled “Body Fatness Measures for Local South Asians in Relation to National Cutoffs Used for Disease Intervention: A Pilot Study” sought to address the biases in standard measurements used to classify an individual as healthy or unhealthy predominantly based on data from people of European descent. The findings may provide a better understanding of body fat measures in South Asian populations and how to assess overall health in these populations.

Adeoye is a Banneker Key Scholar, AGNR Peer Mentor, as well as a MANRRS member. “It was amazing to be rewarded for all the hard work that went into completing the project,” says Adeoye. “Being at the MANRRS conference was my first time seeing other students present their research, and it allowed me to learn how to integrate my academic work into a professional setting.” Justan Randolph, a senior Environmental Science and Technology major and MANRRS member, also presented a research poster in the noncompetitive poster event.

The MANRRS quiz bowl event is designed to increase and test the knowledge of MANRRS members on a variety of topics. This year’s quiz bowl team, the Terror-pins, was comprised of Tasker as team captain and MANNRS Secretary, Jade Walls: junior Animal Science major, Trey Marbury: freshman Animal Science major, and Sagar Desai: freshman Agricultural and Resource Economics major.

“Competing in MANRRS quiz bowl was a fantastic experience, says Tasker. “We were asked questions about agricultural economics, biology, soil science, chemistry and MANRRS history. We were a well-rounded team with different strengths, and were able to function as a cohesive unit while both having fun and maintaining focus. With the help of Latisha Judd, MANRRS co-advisor, we were able to make our practices simulate a hyper-competitive environment, which gave us an edge in each round of the competition. We were very proud to have placed 2nd out of 27 teams.”

Other student participants at the various conference events included Michaela Mealy: senior Environmental Science and Technology major and MANRRS President, Nathaniel Carter: Physics major, Jarvis Scott: Animal Science graduate student, and Latisha Judd: Animal Science doctoral candidate and MANRRS co-advisor.

Photo Credit: Dr. Evelyn CooperApr 16, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

A Breakthrough in Aiding Diabetes Patients Through Development of First-of-its-Kind Pig Research Model

Research - Wed, 2018-04-04 16:02
UMD researchers utilized cutting edge genome editing to generate pig model lacking pancreatic endocrine cellsCRISPR Cas9

College Park, MD -- Diabetes is a ‘new-age’ epidemic with ever-increasing rates of disease and death across the globe. Diabetes manifests as a loss of insulin production and/or secretion and an inability to regulate glucose levels in the blood. Currently, an emerging trend in the diabetic field is to employ gene therapy to regenerate patients’ pancreatic cells and/or transplantation of patients’ stem cells into surrogate animal models to generate patient-specific pancreas. That said, animal models to test the safety and efficacy of these approaches are limiting. To address this shortcoming, researchers from UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources have used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to target the Neurogenin 3 (NGN3) gene in the pig, resulting in a pig model with a complete loss of endocrine function. Using this loss of function study, the research team concluded that NGN3 regulated development of the pancreas in a pig model is similar to the process in humans, setting the stage for a thrilling new model to test diabetic therapies, and for generating human organs in pigs.  

Dr. Bhanu Telugu, assistant professor in the college’s Animal and Avian Sciences department, along with a team of researchers in his laboratory, including lead-author Timothy Sheets (a pre doctoral candidate) and Drs. Ki-Eun Park and Chi-Hun Park have produced the first demonstration of a targeted gene mutation induced by CRISPR/Cas9 in a large animal model that resulted in a complete loss of endocrine function. Furthermore, these results are the first demonstration in any species using CRISPR/Cas9 technology specifically targeting NGN3.

“This new model will be a game changer in our efforts to develop therapies for diabetes. Our efforts to regenerate disease cell types, create new pancreatic cell types, or growing transplantable human cells in pig models will receive a much needed boost,” says Telugu. “Additionally, this model gives us a new range of treatment possibilities and dovetails strongly with the college’s initiative to study and influence the intersection of human, animal and environmental health.”

Recent progress in gene therapies and the practice of generating human organs within large animal models is a popular topic in the news cycle, but public records of success may be a long way off. This model paves the way for testing the feasibility, efficacy and safety of this approach. An ultimate goal of Telugu’s lab is to utilize transplantable cells from the patient in need of an organ, and use those to generate a transplantable organ in a whole pig animal setting.

Their report, “Targeted Mutation of NGN3 Gene Disrupts Pancreatic Endocrine Cell Development in Pigs”, was recently accepted and published by Scientific Reports. It can be accessed">"> here.

Photo Credit: Ernesto del Aguila III, NHGRI, Attribution-Non Commercial License - 4, 2018Author: Graham Binder
Categories: Research News

UMD Researcher Uncovers Protein Used to Outsmart the Human Immune System

Research - Mon, 2018-04-02 16:04
Findings have major implications for tick-borne diseases like Lyme diseaseIxodes scapularis tick

A UMD researcher has uncovered a mechanism by which the bacteria that causes Lyme disease persists in the body and fights your early, innate immune responses. Dr. Utpal Pal, Professor in Veterinary Medicine, has been studying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria throughout his twelve years with UMD, and his work has already produced the protein marker used to identify this bacterial infection in the body. Now, Dr. Pal has isolated a protein produced by the bacteria that disables one of the body’s first immune responses, giving insight into mechanisms that are largely not understood. He has also observed a never-before-seen phenomena demonstrating that even without this protein and with the immune system responding perfectly, the bacteria can spring back in the body weeks later. Understanding this bacteria, which is amongst only a few pathogens that can actually persist in the body for long periods of time, has major implications for the treatment of tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, which is an increasingly chronic and consistently prevalent public health issue.

“Most people don’t realize that they actually are walking around with more bacterial cells in their bodies than their own cells, so we are really bags of bacteria,” explains Pal. “Most are good, but the second your body detects something that is a pathogen and can cause disease, your immune system starts to work.” The body sends a first, nonspecific wave of attack to kill the bacteria detected that doesn’t belong. This happens within a few hours to days. If this doesn’t work, it takes seven to ten days to learn about the enemy and send a large second wave of reinforcements to kill what is left. “Lyme disease is actually caused by your immune system,” explains Pal. “This bacteria wins the first battle, and your body overreacts so much that it causes intense inflammation in all the joints and areas that the bacteria spreads by sending so many reinforcements to kill it. Borrelia is then killed, but the inflammation remains and causes many of your symptoms for Lyme disease. That is why killing Borrelia in the first wave of immunity is so important.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate about 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually in the United States. However, these cases are largely underestimated and reported due to the attention given to mosquito-transmitted diseases like malaria. “The majority of all vector-borne diseases in the US are actually tick-borne, and 6 of the 15 distinct tick diseases are transmitted by the Ixodes tick we study in our lab,” says Pal. “The symptoms of these diseases present similarly to many other illnesses and are hard to pin down, so they are vastly underreported and an even bigger public health concern locally and globally than people realize.” Now, chronic Lyme disease is a growing concern. Six to twelve months after traditional antibiotic therapy, many people have non-objective symptoms that return with varying intensity and no current treatment strategy, known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.

Dr. Pal’s research has shed some light on this issue and paved the way for future research and treatment options by discovering that even without the protein used to beat the first wave of immune defense, infection can reoccur in the body weeks later. “This means there is a second line of defense for Borrelia just like for our body’s immune system. This had never been observed before and gives us insight into what could be causing these chronic Lyme disease cases,” explains Pal.

Dr. Pal is frequently consulted for his expertise and has written books on this highly versatile bacteria. The federal government has recently put more emphasis on tick-borne disease research and a major public health issue with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. As part of this, Dr. Pal was asked to serve on a Tick-Borne Disease Working Group Subcommittee for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) focused on vaccines and therapeutics for tick-borne diseases, driving future research in the field. Dr. Pal currently holds two concurrent multi-million dollar RO1 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for this work, only granted for highly important and influential research. “I am fascinated by Borrelia, and this discovery will open the door for much more work to treat and control important diseases like Lyme disease,” says Pal.

Dr. Pal’s paper, Plasticity in early immune evasion strategies of a bacterial pathogen, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

Photo Credit: Dr. Utpal PalApr 2, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Forty Years of Data Quantifies Benefits of Bt Corn Adoption Across a Wide Variety of Crops for the First Time

Research - Mon, 2018-03-12 16:41
Myriad benefits include 90% suppression of pests, severely limited spraying and multiple millions in economic benefitsCorn borer on sweet corn

UMD researchers have pulled together forty years of data to quantify the effects of Bt corn, a highly marketed and successful genetically modified corn variety, in a novel and large-scale study. Other studies have demonstrated the benefits of Bt corn adoption on pest management for pests like the corn borer in corn itself for years, but this is the first study to look at the effects on other offsite crops in North America. By gaining control of the corn borer population, this study shows significant decreases in recommended spraying regimens, pest populations, and overall crop damage not just for corn, but for peppers, green beans, and other important crops to North American agriculture. These benefits have never before been documented and showcase Bt corn as a powerful tool to combat pesticide resistance and advance the agricultural industry.

Bt corn was first introduced and adopted in the United States in 1996 and is a genetically modified organism or GMO that makes up over 90% of our current corn population. In this study, Dr. Galen Dively, Professor Emeritus and Integrated Pest Management Consultant in the Department of Entomology, and Dr. Dilip Venugopal, UMD Research Associate, use data from 1976 - 2016 to look at trends twenty years before and twenty years after adoption of Bt corn. “Safety of Bt corn and other GMOs has been tested and proven extensively, but this study is about effectiveness of Bt corn as a pest management strategy, particularly for offsite crops or different crops in different areas than the Bt corn itself,” explains Venugopal.

“This is the first paper published in North America showing offsite benefits to other host plants for a pest like the corn borer, which is a significant pest for many other crops like green beans and peppers,” says Dively. “We are seeing really more than 90% suppression of the corn borer population in our area for any crop, which is incredible.”

Using numbers from pest traps to estimate the population and examine the recommended spraying regimens for pests like the corn borer, Dively and Venugopal observed significant reductions in the population, with much less spraying occurring over time. “There would be no recommendation to spray for the corn borer given the current population, and this paper can trace that back to Bt corn adoption,” explains Dively. “What’s more, by looking at the actual pest infestations and damage on actual crops over forty years of data, we took it a step farther to see the benefits on all sorts of crops and the declines in the actual pest population. We are able to see the results in theory and in practice on actual crops and in the real pest population over a long stretch of time.”

“The next steps would to be quantify the millions and millions of dollars in economic benefits we see here in a very concrete way to show money and time saved on spraying and pest management, crop damage reduction, as well as consideration of the environmental benefits. The important thing here, however, is to think of Bt corn as one of many tools in an integrated pest management tool box. The benefits are undeniable, but must always be weighed against many other options to use a broad range of tools and maximize benefit while minimizing any potential risks,” explains Venugopal.

Dively concludes, “This study ultimately shows the importance of evaluating GMO crops beyond the field that is being planted. These products and the new advances coming down the pike have the potential to suppress major pest populations just like Bt corn has. This is just the beginning, and we need to be quantifying these effects. I am excited by these results and encouraged for future work.”

Their paper is published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences and can be found here">">here.

Photo Credit: Amy MoreyMar 12, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Hughes Center partner on SARE grant

Research - Mon, 2018-03-12 14:42
An aerial shot of the Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown

BALTIMORE — The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law has been awarded a three-year, $159,380 grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (“SARE”) program. The grant will be administered by the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative (“ALEI”) and Sarah Everhart, Senior Legal Specialist and Research Associate. The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology Inc. is a collaborator and subrecipient on the grant project. 

SARE is a program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). The grant is from SARE's Professional Development Program, which provides training, grants, and resources for agricultural service providers to build their awareness, knowledge, and skills related to sustainable agriculture concepts.  

The project will engage agricultural service providers from the University of Maryland Extension, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and nonprofits in a comprehensive education program about agricultural conservation leasing. 

Through an informational webinar and a series of five regional workshops, the project will equip agricultural service providers with the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to educate and advise farmers and landowners on how to overcome the challenges of using conservation practices on leased land.  According to Everhart, “agricultural service providers know that conservation practices are less prevalent on leased land but they currently don’t have any way to address the issue. This education series will give them strategies and resources to assist landowners and farmers in overcoming the challenges associated with implementing conservation practices on leased farms.”

ALEI is a collaboration of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (“UMB”); the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park (“UMCP”); and the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (“UMES”). ALEI is an initiative of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, a collaboration between the state of Maryland’s two most powerful public research institutions: UMB and UMCP. It leverages the sizable strengths and complementary missions of both institutions to strengthen Maryland’s innovation economy, advance interdisciplinary research, create opportunities for students, and solve important problems for the people of Maryland and the nation.

ALEI was established to help preserve Maryland’s family farms and assist their owners in addressing the complicated legal issues associated with agriculture. Based in Queenstown, the Hughes Center provides leadership to promote environmentally sound and economically viable agriculture and forestry as Maryland’s preferred land use through research, outreach and collaboration.

Tags: Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-EcologyAgriculture Law Education InitiativeHughes internsaleiSARE grantMar 12, 2018Author: Josh BollingerFeature On: Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc.Groups audience: Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc.
Categories: Research News

Tracing the Origins of the Colorado Potato Beetle

Research - Wed, 2018-02-28 09:24
Implications for Effective Pest Management Strategies Against a Beetle that Continues to Decimate Potato CropsColorado potato beetle

A UMD researcher has traced the origin of pest populations of the Colorado potato beetle, by far the most important insect for the potato industry in Maryland, back to the Plains states, dispelling theories that the beetle came from Mexican or other divergent populations. Little was previously known about the beetle’s origin as a pest, particularly how it developed the ability to consume potatoes and decimate entire fields so quickly. With its unique ability to adapt to pesticides almost faster than the industry can keep up, this beetle is consistently an issue for potato farmers. Using investigative evolutionary biology to determine the origins of this beetle and understand the pest’s genetic makeup better, industry can better target pest management strategies to combat pesticide resistance and ultimately improve the potato industry.

The United States is the fourth largest producer of potatoes worldwide, producing over 20 million tons of potatoes each year. By comparing the genetics of pre-agriculture potato beetles, before the pest began to consume potatoes, to post-agriculture potato beetles, Dr. David Hawthorne of the Entomology Department and his team hope to understand why and how the beetle is developing resistance so quickly, and what can be done to slow resistance. “The Colorado potato beetle is almost always one of the first insects to develop resistance to any pesticide. In fact, many contribute the entire pesticide arms race and development of pesticides to this particular beetle, which can destroy entire fields very easily,” says Hawthorne.

“With this study,” explains Hawthorne, “we were trying to gain insight into two major questions: Where did the potato beetle come from? And why do they evolve resistance so quickly? This would have major implications in controlling the pest, since the more growers have to spray, the greater their costs and risk to the surrounding environment. We need a strategy to weigh our options and determine the best way to control these pests without overspraying or even torching entire fields overrun with beetles, which has happened in the past when there has been no effective pesticide options.”

Hawthorne and his team found that populations of beetles eating potatoes are most closely related to nightshade eaters in the Plains states. Beetles from Mexico, a possible source of the pest populations, were far too distantly related to have been the source of this beetles. “Before they became pests, the plains beetles first evolved a taste for potatoes,” says Hawthorne. “Some non-pest populations still don’t eat them and will prefer the weeds surrounding the potatoes, but not the potatoes themselves. This is just one way that populations may differ.” By understanding the distinctions between these populations and which beetles are the source of current pest populations, more targeted pest management strategies can be developed based on the specific genetic makeup of the beetles, leading to more effective and less spraying.

Hawthorne describes this work as almost forensic biology, tracking the evolution and movement of this beetle across time and geography. “I like that this work is very interdisciplinary,” says Dr. Hawthorne. “It is about taking all the puzzle pieces and trying to put the whole story together to have the biggest impact on the field. Ultimately, this work is a major step towards understanding one of the most harmful pests, and has significant implications in controlling the population, keeping the potato industry stable, and fighting pesticide resistance and overspraying.”

Dr. Hawthorne’s study was published in The Journal of Economic Entomology and can be found here">

Image by Anton Vakulenko, Flickr Commons, Image">">Image license

Photo Credit: Anton VakulenkoFeb 28, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

UMD Researchers Find Gene that May Greatly Increase Strawberry Production

Research - Mon, 2018-01-22 12:31
Work has potential to significantly bolster grower production and enhance nursery industry with new control over propagation and popularization of new plant varietiesStrawberry Production

UMD researchers have identified and isolated a gene that is directly linked to the strawberry production process. With the ability to turn this gene on and off to produce runners (a long horizontal stem ideal for producing young strawberry plants for sale) or flowers (ideal to produce fruit) and a greater understanding of how to control this process, this work has the potential to greatly increase strawberry productivity.

Strawberries are a $3 billion per year agricultural industry in the United States alone. However, the demand has only been growing over the years. There is infinite potential to enhance this industry further by understanding the mechanisms behind breeding and production of strawberry plants. Julie Caruana under the direction of Dr. Zhongchi Liu, Affiliate Professor with the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture and Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, has come significantly closer to this level of understanding by finding this gene and honing the ability to produce runners. “We know at least one gene that is definitely involved, and going forward, we can determine what other genes are involved and how they interact,” said Caruana.

There are many environmental factors that affect flowering and runnering behavior. These include temperature and day length, which is why strawberries typically produce runners in the summer months and flower in the fall, winter, and spring months. Controlling this trait and understanding the process, genetically and environmentally, is very important to the strawberry industry. “When you are trying to fruit strawberry plants, turning off runner production would really help the growers,” explains Mike Newell, Senior Faculty Specialist and Horticultural Crops Program Manager at the Wye Research and Education Center, who works with strawberry growers. “Depending  on the strawberry production system used, runner production may or may not be desirable, and they may have to be manually removed. Nurseries on the other hand would love runners so they can sell more tips to growers. Controlling this would certainly help growers and nurseries from different sides.”

This work not only has the potential to improve strawberry production with currently popular varieties and growing methods, but could increase yields even more with the popularization of different varieties that are less viable at the moment due to runner behavior. “Most strawberry plants in use today are known as June bearers, or plants that only produce berries once per year,” explained Dr. Liu. “Since strawberry plants are only kept for two years due to significant production drop off with age, farmers only get two harvests from a typical June bearer. Ever-bearers on the other hand can produce multiple harvests each year, increasing overall strawberry yield. But they are relatively unpopular at the moment for farmers and at nurseries because they are poor runner makers - it is difficult to propagate ever bearers. If we can find a way to induce runner production in ever-bearers, the market for these strawberry plants could open up, increasing strawberry yield and having major impacts on production.”

The discovery was published in">Molecular Plant.

Photo Credit: Dan KeckJan 22, 2018Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

UMD Researcher Develops Innovative Water Treatment System to Clean and Sustain the Port of Baltimore

Research - Wed, 2017-12-20 12:23
Project improves water and air quality, reduces pollution, and creates renewable energyPort of Baltimore

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is serving the state and partnering with the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Transportation to pilot innovative sustainable technology with the goal of cleaning up the Port of Baltimore.

The Port of Baltimore is actively trying to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and discover new ways to increase the overall sustainability of the Port. Dr. Stephanie Lansing, Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, is leading a pilot project to explore ways to achieve this goal. Dr. Patrick Kangas and Dr. Peter May, also of Environmental Science and Technology, built a treatment system using algae as a filtration system, resulting in excess nutrients being removed from the water. Nutrient pollution causes the water to be low in oxygen, killing the wildlife and throwing off the natural ecosystem. This project not only combats this issue, but Dr. Lansing is using the algae produced from the treatment process as a sustainable energy source.

“What I love about this project is that we are taking traditional agricultural practices and water quality work and applying it to an urban setting in a unique way that hasn’t really been done before,” said Dr. Lansing. “We are cleaning up the Bay, improving water and air quality, reducing pollution, and creating renewable energy using innovative green technologies for the Port all at once.”

Growing algae as a filtration system is fast and efficient. Water from the Patapsco River next to the Port is fed into a runway that is 200 feet long and 6 feet wide. The runway is used to grow algae, pulling out the nitrates and phosphates from the water for its natural growth processes. The water that is cycled back into the river is therefore cleared of nutrient runoff that can cause imbalances and issues in the Bay. Instead, what is returned is oxygen rich, clean water, improving water and air quality around the Port.

Algae grows quickly and is harvested by the Port once a week and fed into a series of three digesters, housed in small greenhouse-like structures that break down the algae, to produce methane-enriched biogas. The biogas can be used as a supplement to power a fuel cell that produces electricity.

“We are harvesting very high quality methane gas from the algae so far to power our fuel cell. From manure, we are used to seeing 55% or 60% methane, but we are seeing 75% methane or higher from the algae, making it very efficient,” explained Dr. Lansing. “Because the algae grows so quickly and is easy to harvest, it makes a great consistent source of biogas when fed into the digesters.”

Currently, the fuel cell is only being used to power flood lights around the digesters. The goal is that the water pump can be powered by the biogas as well, making this a completely sustainable and closed system for this small-scale pilot project.

“If we can show that this is economically feasible and determine how much space we need to clean how much water and produce how much electricity, we can hopefully scale this up from a pilot project and create something viable that we can use to improve the sustainability and environmental footprint of the Port,” said Barbara McMahon of the Port Administration. “Our partnership with MARAD and the University of Maryland has been a huge help and very rewarding. We are excited to see what the future holds.”

Dec 20, 2017Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Applying Agricultural Practices to the Port of Baltimore

Research - Wed, 2017-12-20 12:23
Cleaning Up the Port and Producing Sustainable EnergyPort of Baltimore

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is serving the state and partnering with the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Transportation to pilot innovative sustainable technology with the goal of cleaning up the Port of Baltimore.

The Port of Baltimore is actively trying to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and discover new ways to increase the overall sustainability of the Port. Dr. Stephanie Lansing, Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, is leading a pilot project to explore ways to achieve this goal. Dr. Patrick Kangas and Dr. Peter May, also of Environmental Science and Technology, built a treatment system using algae as a filtration system, resulting in excess nutrients being removed from the water. Nutrient pollution causes the water to be low in oxygen, killing the wildlife and throwing off the natural ecosystem. This project not only combats this issue, but Dr. Lansing is using the algae produced from the treatment process as a sustainable energy source.

“What I love about this project is that we are taking traditional agricultural practices and water quality work and applying it to an urban setting in a unique way that hasn’t really been done before,” said Dr. Lansing. “We are cleaning up the Bay, improving water and air quality, reducing pollution, and creating renewable energy using innovative green technologies for the Port all at once.”

Growing algae as a filtration system is fast and efficient. Water from the Patapsco River next to the Port is fed into a runway that is 200 feet long and 6 feet wide. The runway is used to grow algae, pulling out the nitrates and phosphates from the water for its natural growth processes. The water that is cycled back into the river is therefore cleared of nutrient runoff that can cause imbalances and issues in the Bay. Instead, what is returned is oxygen rich, clean water, improving water and air quality around the Port.

Algae grows quickly and is harvested by the Port once a week and fed into a series of three digesters, housed in small greenhouse-like structures that break down the algae, to produce methane-enriched biogas. The biogas can be used as a supplement to power a fuel cell that produces electricity.

“We are harvesting very high quality methane gas from the algae so far to power our fuel cell. From manure, we are used to seeing 55% or 60% methane, but we are seeing 75% methane or higher from the algae, making it very efficient,” explained Dr. Lansing. “Because the algae grows so quickly and is easy to harvest, it makes a great consistent source of biogas when fed into the digesters.”

Currently, the fuel cell is only being used to power flood lights around the digesters. The goal is that the water pump can be powered by the biogas as well, making this a completely sustainable and closed system for this small-scale pilot project.

“If we can show that this is economically feasible and determine how much space we need to clean how much water and produce how much electricity, we can hopefully scale this up from a pilot project and create something viable that we can use to improve the sustainability and environmental footprint of the Port,” said Barbara McMahon of the Port Administration. “Our partnership with MARAD and the University of Maryland has been a huge help and very rewarding. We are excited to see what the future holds.”

Dec 20, 2017Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Announces Animal and Avian Sciences Professor Iqbal Hamza as a 2017 Fellow

Research - Wed, 2017-11-22 13:13

Dr. Iqbal Hamza of the University of Maryland has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. Dr. Hamza was elected for groundbreaking discoveries and distinguished contributions on the biochemical and cell biology mechanisms underlying heme and iron trafficking and their regulation.

Anemia affects more than a quarter of the global human population. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, making the study of iron metabolism a field with a large public health footprint. “Most people have heard of hemoglobin and know it is important to your blood. We make hemoglobin by using heme which we get from iron in our food; over 70% of the iron in our body is in hemoglobin. But, we don’t even know how the heme gets into the globin to create hemoglobin. This is a fundamental biochemical question with far-reaching public health impact,” said Dr. Hamza. By understanding the mechanisms around iron metabolism and heme production and transport, Dr. Hamza is ultimately working to understand, prevent, and treat anemia caused by iron deficiency, as well as to kill common parasites that feed on heme supplies through improved drug development. This is the goal of Dr. Hamza’s 15-year career as a Professor at the University of Maryland in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

When Dr. Hamza joined the University of Maryland and was asked what he wanted out of his career, he said, “I want to be able to look back and say I solved a major scientific problem in an imaginative and creative way. That is how I started studying heme and iron metabolism,” explained Dr. Hamza. “So little was known about the mechanisms, and I wanted to tackle a challenging problem head on.” When Dr. Hamza first started this journey, it was unknown how heme moved around the body because these mechanisms were so difficult to study. Since humans and common model organisms like mice and yeast create their own heme, it made it difficult to track transport patterns and distinguish what heme was made inside the body, or what heme was coming from outside sources like diet.

To address this issue, Dr. Hamza started studying these processes in bloodless worms called Caenorhabditis elegans. “These microscopic worms don’t make their own heme, but they need it to survive and are a great genetic model to study anemia. They are also transparent, making it easy to observe transport processes in an actual living organism,” said Dr. Hamza. This opened up the entire field to the groundbreaking discoveries in heme transport and signaling that Dr. Hamza is being honored for. He currently has grants from the National Institute of Health which include studying mutations in humans with defects in heme transport, how organs communicate with one another to signal when they need heme, how parasites steal heme from hosts, how to block parasites with pharmaceuticals to improve human and animal health, and how to develop sensors to track iron and heme movement in living cells and tissues.

“Being a AAAS Fellow is a great honor to me because it essentially tells me that my peers and colleagues appreciate the science we are doing here,” said Dr. Hamza. “To me, science is about exploration and adding to a new body of knowledge. I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I’m so excited coming to work each day because I just don’t know what I’m going to discover.”

The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (">"> as well as Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world.

This year’s AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on November 24, 2017. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Saturday, February 17 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Central Time at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. For more information, see">"> .

"> Credit: Edwin RemsbergNov 22, 2017Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: Research News

Animal and Avian Sciences Professor Receives $1 Million to Advance Animal Well-Being and the Poultry Industry

Research - Mon, 2017-11-20 10:10
Addressing the Needs of a Changing Climate and Food Security through Sustainable Agricultural ProductionYoung broiler chickens at their feeder

Dr. Tom Porter, Professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, is tackling many major global issues as a leader in poultry research with two new grants from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) totaling $1 million. He will be exploring ways to increase poultry yield and meat production while improving the lives of the animals themselves through closer study of natural growth hormone processes and resistance to heat stress caused by severe weather patterns. In this way, Dr. Porter is advancing the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ initiatives around animal health and well-being, food security and hunger, and agricultural sustainability in the face of a changing climate.

“By 2050, the world will be in the wake of a large food shortage,” explained Dr. Porter. “To meet the demand of a growing population and combat hunger, it is anticipated that meat production alone will have to increase 43 to 47 percent across the board, with little to no new land or space for meat production. This presents a major food crisis.”

To this end, Dr. Porter has been studying the mechanisms behind natural growth hormone production in poultry for 27 years, with consistent federal funding for this project for 24 of those years. Thanks to Dr. Porter’s years of research, we know what controls production of the bird’s own growth hormone, when it begins, how to target the DNA to control growth hormone production, and what cellular mechanisms are involved.

“If there is no new land for meat production, the best way to meet our agricultural and food supply needs is through more efficient and effective growth,” said Dr. Porter. By inducing the natural growth hormone production process even just a little earlier in chick development, critical parameters like body weight, yield, composition, and feed efficiency (or the amount of feed needed to produce a pound of meat) may be positively influenced, providing more insight into these mechanisms. This is what Dr. Porter is examining with one of his grants from USDA NIFA’s Animal Nutrition, Growth, and Lactation Program.

Dr. Porter’s second grant is from USDA NIFA’s Animal Well-Being Program and is for a new project. Chickens begin to exhibit significant heat stress at sustained temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. With the ever increasing extremes in our global climate, heat waves with prolonged temperatures over 95 degrees are increasingly common. Significant heat stress not only causes the birds to suffer, but often leads to premature death on a large scale. To improve animal welfare, well-being, and overall poultry production, Dr. Porter is working to perfect a protocol to easily condition chicks to better handle heat waves as adult birds. Eggs are incubated at 99.5 degrees normally, and chicks are kept at 92 degrees thereafter. It has already been established that by exposing chicks to 100 degree heat for an additional day when they are young and high temperatures are essential, you can produce lasting effects on adult birds, cutting heat stress and mortality rates at least in half. What is not understood is how this mechanism works, how this affects poultry production and overall yield, and if the protocol can be optimized with more or less conditioning.

Through Dr. Porter’s continued high-level research, he is helping the college stand as a leader across several major global issues. “I am a physiologist, and really an endocrinologist, so understanding the mechanisms that regulate hormones and stress is what I enjoy,” said Dr. Porter. “But everything we do is to improve the well-being and lives of the animals themselves and to ultimately improve poultry production. That is the key to this work.”  

Photo Credit: Edwin RemsbergNov 20, 2017Author: Samantha Watters
Categories: 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


Maintained by the IET Department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. © 2018. Web Accessibility