College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

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">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4567/full"> ">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4567/full">“Glyphosate resistance in Ambrosia">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4567/full">Ambrosia trifida:">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4567/full">: I. Novel rapid cell death response to glyphosate and the second “Glyphosate">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4569/full">Glyphosate resistance in Ambrosia">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4569/full">Ambrosia trifida:">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4569/full">: 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">http://aem.asm.org/content/83/2/e02775-16.full?sid=d87e484c-fa76-4263-91... 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">http://www.nature.com/articles/nplants201718"> 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">http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169115....


 Photo Credit: Michael Rogers Under Creative Commons License - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Jan 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: http://go.umd.edu/5f3">http://go.umd.edu/5f3">http://go.umd.edu/5f3. 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 http://go.umd.edu/5fw.

">http://go.umd.edu/5fw">http://go.umd.edu/5fw.

Lisa Taneyhill is available for media commentary. Her contact information is contained here">https://ansc.umd.edu/people/lisa-taneyhill">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">http://agresearch.umd.edu/node/79"> 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 - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/Nov 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">https://www.enst.umd.edu/people/faculty/mitchell-pavao-zuckerman">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">http://www.nature.com/articles/srep35070"> 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 - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Oct 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">http://go.umd.edu/ic5">Link to original photo in Flickr Commons.



 Photo Credit: INRA and Jean Weber Under Creative Commons License - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Sep 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: http://nas-sites.org/gene-drives/. 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
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