UD’s Griffiths dives into underwater research in the Caribbean

UD's Brian Griffiths spends summer studying marine life at the Central Caribbean Marine InstituteUniversity of Delaware undergraduate student Brian Griffiths is spending his time this summer with sharks, eagle rays, massive corals, turtles and schools of endangered fish as he conducts underwater research on seagrass in the Caribbean at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) in the Cayman Islands.

Griffiths’ research is part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program funded through a grant CCMI received from the National Science Foundation to study coral reef biodiversity and resilience at the Little Cayman Research Centre.

Griffiths, a senior Honors Program student who is majoring in environmental engineering and plant science with a minor in Spanish, is specifically focused on the discovery of an ecomorph of a species of seagrass, Thalassia testudinum.

“This species of seagrass is known to be able to change its morphology based on its environment, and I think this new form may be due to differing sediment characteristics,” said Griffiths, who takes 8-inch cores of seagrass out of different lagoons on the island and dissects them to count meristems – the tissue of a plant containing undifferentiated cells – and the number of shoots.

Griffiths also takes and analyzes sediment cores from the locations to determine what they are made up of and their thickness. He is hoping to find a correlation between the occurrence of the strange seagrass and the properties of the sediment in which it is found.

Seagrass meadows, along with algae, are important to reefs as they are often the first steps in forming the ecosystems and are the main food source for organisms such as sea turtles.

“Without seagrass, none of these ecosystems could exist, although it is often overlooked,” said Griffiths.

In addition to his seagrass research, which is usually conducted in the afternoon, Griffiths also does two morning dives where he takes photographs, runs transects to identify coral and fish populations, and also finds critically endangered coral species.

“We also do specialty dives, like lionfish culls,” said Griffiths. “A typical dive may last 45 minutes at 60 or 70 feet, then we come back to the boat and have a 45 minute surface interval before swapping our gear and going down again at a different site to do the same.”

Lionfish culls can also occur during the evenings, as Griffiths said that the species is incredibly invasive and venomous and that in addition to stinging tourists, they wreak havoc on the reefs, killing herbivorous fish that in turn results in the overgrowth of algae and death of corals.

Griffiths said he jumped into research scuba diving when he was coming up with a list of things that he thought were exciting but had never done.

“I had always wanted to be a diver. Doing research underwater, however, is a different story – it isn’t all swimming with turtles and sharks because we have a job to do. We are often dropped in places with huge amounts of surge and massive currents that sweep you onto your back when you come over the reef wall,” said Griffiths, who added that he enjoys doing field work and that CCMI and its staff are on the cutting edge of reef research in one of the last pristine, untouched marine reef ecosystems in the world.

“I was attracted by the prospect of doing work that had a visible impact in a highly vulnerable environment like the reef systems. It was also somewhat of an exploration for me in that I had never before conducted work underwater or done any research related to marine biology. I thought that by jumping in and getting my hands dirty I would be able to decide what I ultimately want to spend my life studying,” said Griffiths.

Griffiths is being mentored by CCMI’s Greg Foster, and he said that Foster is a great role model.

As for his favorite part about the program, Griffiths said that it had to be the diving.

“It takes my breath away every time. There is nothing like the first few seconds of dropping below the water level and seeing the world thriving beneath you. I often have to remind myself that I have a job to do so I don’t waste all of my air staring at everything,” said Griffiths.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD scientists develop new water quality collaboration with researchers in France

Shreeram Inamdar has developed a new collaboration with researchers in France concerning water quality.Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the water science and policy graduate program, has developed a new collaboration with researchers in France concerning water quality.

Inamdar is working with Anne Jaffrezic and Laurent Jeanneau, scientists at the University of Rennes and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The partnership was initiated in January when Guillaume Humbert, a doctoral student of Jaffrezic, traveled to UD on a French scholarship for a three-month study visit. He worked with Inamdar and Thomas Parr, a postdoctoral scientist, to develop a mathematical model to characterize dissolved organic matter in soils and streams for his study catchment in France. A publication on this work is in preparation.

On March 5-7, Jaffrezic and Jeanneau visited UD and presented a research seminar titled “Dissolved Organic Matter Biogeochemistry at the Critical Zone Observatory AgrHys (France): A French ‘Promenade’ Through Temporal and Spatial Scales.”

They met with various UD faculty members and visited the Fair Hill experimental watershed in nearby Maryland, where Inamdar and colleagues are studying the impacts of extreme weather events on water quality and aquatic ecosystem processes. Their visit occurred at a time when Newark and the surrounding region were pummeled with a large snow event, which is atypical for the region.

To further strengthen the partnership, Inamdar made a return visit to France on June 23-27 and presented an invited talk at the University of Rennes and CNRS. He also visited the French watershed study site, the Kervidy-Naizin catchment in Brittany that is part of the Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) network in Europe.

Researchers at the site are investigating how fertilizer use and other practices in agricultural watersheds are impacting the concentrations of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – in streams draining these landscapes.

Similar to the Fair Hill experimental watershed, streams in this watershed have been instrumented with state-of-the-art, in situ electronic sensors that measure and record water quality every 15 to 30 minutes.

This high-frequency water chemistry data is especially valuable to study sudden changes in water quality, also referred to as “hot moments.” Such changes could occur during large storm events, ecological events such as autumn leaf fall and/or anthropogenic pulse inputs of pollutants or contaminants.

Understanding these sudden changes in water quality and the value and reliability of the sensors is an important research priority and one of the focus areas of this collaboration.

Future plans involve additional study visits by French doctoral students and faculty members to UD in 2016 and data and results comparisons between the two experimental watersheds.

The partnership and Inamdar’s visit to France were supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Track 1 and 2 awards to UD.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD graduate Jessica Palmer offers advice to future vet school applicants

Jessica Palmer offers advice for applying to veterinary schoolWhen Jessica Palmer enrolled in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, she knew that she wanted to go to veterinary school upon graduation and, as with most pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences students, she knew that an arduous application process and difficult workload awaited.

Palmer spent a month and a half of one summer filling out applications and when it was all over, she had been accepted into not one but eight veterinary schools, providing a range of choices.

Ultimately Palmer chose to study in the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. After finishing her first year there, she is participating in the college’s summer scholars research program and working in a laboratory, and will begin her second year of studies in mid-August.

Palmer, who graduated from UD in 2014 with a dual degree in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences and Latin, said she loves the college, the professors and the location in Raleigh.

Palmer isn’t studying one specific type of veterinary practice, as she doesn’t have to pick a track until her third year. While she is keeping an open mind, she said she will probably pursue a career that features work with small animals, such as cats and dogs – part of the reason she wanted to become a veterinarian.

“It’s that typical story. I just loved animals, and I looked more into it. I enjoyed the medicine aspect, too, so I went into UD and did the pre-vet program,” Palmer said. “I ended up saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go for it,’ and applied everywhere.”

As for the application process, Palmer admitted that it was tough. To get through it, she set goals for herself during the day and did a little bit at a time.

“I worked at Empowered Yoga in the Newark Shopping Center on Main Street and during the classes, when I had down time, I would log in and do a little bit of the application process at a time and try to get that done. So it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t fun either,” said Palmer.

When the process was over, Palmer found that she was accepted into eight different veterinary schools and ended up at North Carolina State, which was her first choice.

UD education valuable

As to how the pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences program at UD helped prepare her for vet school, Palmer said that a big plus was that the University allows students to get all of the course prerequisites required for vet school. She also said that the anatomy and physiology classes were very helpful, and that being able to get hands-on experience during her freshman year was a big plus.

“Freshman year, we got to go to the farm and raise some calves and chart their growth. That was a really good opportunity,” Palmer said. “I hadn’t worked with farm animals before so it was great that we have this farm and we were able to go have those labs, see the beef cattle, the horses, the poultry.”

Hands-on work with the animals “was helpful, even when it was rainy out or really early and you didn’t want to go,” Palmer said. “It was a really good thing to do. The farm is one of the program’s biggest assets.”

Palmer singled out Robert Dyer, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, as being especially helpful.

“He is so enthusiastic. You can tell he loves what he’s doing and he loves being a vet. He is funny and encouraging,” said Palmer.

Advice for students

Palmer said students applying or thinking about applying to veterinary school shouldn’t be afraid to pursue their other passions at the undergraduate level.

“Don’t worry too much about timing – your advisers will work with you,” she said. “Take the weird, fun classes that you want to take. I was actually a dual degree. I got a degree in Latin, as well, and I did that because I enjoyed it and I figured, ‘I’m about to go to vet school and I want to have experiences with a variety of other subject areas and classes before I devote my life to veterinary medicine.’”

Palmer said that while getting good grades is important, being well-rounded might be even more important and that it is crucial to log veterinary and animal experience hours as an undergrad — one thing that she learned the hard way.

“That was one thing that I had to play catch-up on and it was a little bit stressful. North Carolina State doesn’t even consider your application if you have less than 400 hours at a veterinary clinic, so if you have 200 hours and you feel like you’ve been doing it for a while, it still doesn’t cut it. Get the vet hours early,” said Palmer who did her work at Nonantum Veterinary Clinic in Pennsylvania.

The biggest piece of advice she offered, though, is that while the process is tough and can seem insurmountable at times, students shouldn’t be afraid to apply.

“You look at it and it’s pretty daunting at first, but you can do it,” said Palmer. “Just take it day by day and the professors at UD and the different clinics around Newark can be really helpful if you just reach out and ask and see what sort of opportunities there are. If you want to do it, there are always ways to pursue it.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Jessica Palmer

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Awokuse named chair-elect for agricultural economics administrators group

Awakes named Chair Elect for National Association of Agricultural Economics Administrators The University of Delaware’s Titus Awokuse has been named chair-elect for the National Association of Agricultural Economics Administrators (NAAEA), a section of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA).

Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC) in UD’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources (CANR), will assume his role on July 26 during a meeting to be held in San Francisco.

Of being named chair-elect, Awokuse said, “I feel honored to be elected because it’s always special when your peers choose you to lead them.”

Awokuse has been involved with the organization for the last four years and explained that being named chair-elect means he will begin a three-year term that will see him serve as chair-elect the first year, chair of the organization for the second year and then past chair in the third year.

According to Awokuse, it is structured this way to ensure continuity in terms of leadership.

As chair-elect, Awokuse will plan the meetings for next year in addition to other responsibilities.

The NAAEA is comprised of department chairs in agricultural and applied economics across the nation and as part of the association’s function they organize workshops and symposia on important agricultural policy issues that affect the agricultural and resource economics profession.

“The group advocates for professional issues with regard to educational programing and students’ training, academic leadership development, research promotion, and strategic responses to the societal challenges of our day,” said Awokuse.

The association provides advice and recommendations to government agencies and policy makers on important issues. It also serves as a source of information dissemination on best practices in terms of administrative leadership of academic departments in the agricultural and applied economics profession.

“We have a bi-annual meeting in addition to the annual meetings focused on special policy issues of relevance to the profession. It is usually held in Washington, D.C., and we invite legislators and policymakers from Capitol Hill as participants in the meetings,” said Awokuse.

At the meeting, there is a forum with presentations about legislations in Congress concerning the food industry or national agricultural and farm policy.

“This bi-annual meetings organized by this association plays an important role as it also serves as a forum for responding to crucial questions being asked by policymakers,” said Awokuse.

Awokuse also said that the group plays an advocacy role for the profession.

“As a leader, a department chair has the ability to influence the implementation of an institution’s mission and strategic agenda and can also promote scholarship in an academic discipline by supporting and facilitating the research work of colleagues in the department,” said Awokuse. “I see the role of a department chair as primarily being one that enables others to do their work better. We serve as facilitators, working to create an environment where people can do their jobs effectively and efficiently.”

As for how Awokuse handles the workload of being department chair and serving on various national and international agricultural committees — he also was named to the Nigerian National Agricultural Policy Committee in 2014 — he said it’s important to be organized and to prioritize which projects and service opportunities to take on.

“I don’t do everything. Time is a very scarce resource. I respond to requests and invitations that are relevant to my research and professional interests, and also commit to activities that are consistent with my passion and appointment,” said Awokuse.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students travel to California to learn about technology within produce industry

Four UD students attended the 2015 Produce Marketing Association Foundation Tech Knowledge ConferenceThe University of Delaware Career Services Center and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) collaborated with the Produce Marketing Association Foundation to offer an interdisciplinary group of UD students an all-expenses-paid trip to explore career opportunities in the produce industry at the PMA Tech Knowledge conference in Monterey, California.

There, the students learned about new technology and innovations in the industry.

The students who attended PMA Tech Knowledge were Danielle DaGrosa and Taylor Jaffe, who recently graduated from CANR with bachelor’s degrees in food science; Grant Wing, a senior in the College of Engineering; and Julia Winkeler, a senior plant science major in CANR. The four students were selected from a competitive pool of 24 applicants.

Joyce Henderson, Career Services Center assistant director for employer partnerships, said the PMA has been an employer partner with the center for three years. The Tech Knowledge conference is the third career conference that has been offered to UD students.

“The all-expenses-paid conferences are attractive to students because they are an awesome way for students to learn about the industry and to expand their networks. To be eligible to participate in the PMA conferences, students must complete an application and go through an interview process,” Henderson said.

The students were accompanied on the trip by Kali Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences in CANR.

“The whole point of the trip was to inform students about the produce industry,” Kniel said. “I think people are interested in learning about food products that are healthy and that we all consume. Also, there’s so much technology in the business, which is a constantly changing industry.”

On the trip, students met with industry leaders to learn about the potential for incorporating higher level technologies into production of fruits and vegetables, such as sensory applications to enhance the aroma and the consumer experience.

Other new technologies in the industry include the use of drones for monitoring fields, nanotechnology for use in packaging and growing, 3-D printing for use in manufacturing, harvesting and growing, the use of big data, and entrepreneurship.

Networking opportunities were among the most beneficial aspects of the trip, as the students were paired with career ambassadors who helped explain the responsibilities associated with their various jobs and who introduced the students to colleagues.

DaGrosa was paired with a career ambassador who worked in food safety for Chipotle.

“I got to talk to him about all the recent changes they’ve been making in their company policies, and I got to ask him all about what he does. It was really cool to see what kinds of things that company is doing from a food safety standpoint,” said DaGrosa.

The students were also able to meet representatives from companies such as DuPont, Monsanto and Taylor Farms, among others.

“During pretty much every meal we ate, we were networking, so I got to meet a lot of really great people and pick their brains for any advice they might have for me as I go forward into my career,” said DaGrosa. “Also, I made some contacts that I know I can reach out to if I would like to try and find work in that industry.”

Kniel said opportunities to meet professionals in the industry are great for the students as “people in the produce industry are like no others. They are the nicest people. They are so passionate about what they do, and even though some of them may be millionaires, they are very down-to-earth and they want to talk to you. They’re very interested in the future and they recognize that these students are their future.”

A highlight of the trip was when the students got to visit the Salinas Valley headquarters for Tanimura and Antle, an industry leader that farms over 30,000 acres and ships a full line of fresh produce throughout North America, Europe and Asia. During the session, the company showcased some of its new technologies.

DaGrosa said that was her favorite part of the trip because the students “really got to see what a big California farm looks like. I had never seen anything like that before. I’m from New Jersey and I’m used to cornfields, so it was really interesting to see that. It was beautiful.”

About PMA

The Produce Marketing Association is a trade organization representing companies from every segment of the global fresh produce and floral supply chain. PMA helps members grow by providing connections that expand business opportunities and increase sales and consumption.

PMA is the largest association for produce worldwide, representing the interests of nearly 3,000 companies.

UD was one of three universities chosen to participate in the PMA-New England Produce Council conference being held in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in September.

The PMA Foundation has as its mission to attract, develop and retain talent for the global produce and floral industry.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Markland, Savin named Benton Graduate Student Award recipients

The University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has announced that the winners of the 2015 William J. Benton Graduate Student Awards are Sarah Markland and Melissa Savin.

The awards were established in honor of William J. Benton, former CANR associate dean of research and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS).

Sarah Markland receives the 2015 Benton AwardSarah Markland

Markland recently received her doctorate in animal and food sciences, wrapping up a 10-year career at UD, where she also received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science.

Markland has been working with Kali Kniel, professor of animal and food sciences, to consider ways to keep the world’s food supply safe and sustainable as the world’s population continues to increase.

“By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to double and we’re going to be expected to produce the same amount of food on the same amount of land but we’re going to be feeding twice the amount of people,” said Markland.

Markland’s primary project involved looking at ways that plants interact with human pathogens with the hope that through the study researchers will able to develop ways plants can fight off human and plant pathogens.

In another study, Markland looked at the use of bacteria that grows naturally in soil that can be used as a biocontrol agent to protect plants and boost immune response.

“They’re also known as plant probiotics,” she said.

Markland said that unlike when a plant is infected with a plant pathogen — during which it will show signs of stress, such as developing chlorosis lesions — a plant infected with a human pathogen does not show signs of stress because it isn’t really a host.

“There are some studies coming out that say if you inoculate salmonella on the plants, they will start to show signs of stress. As a result, there are questions as to whether human pathogens are also plant pathogens and whether organisms like salmonella and E. coli are using plants as a vector to get to us,” said Markland. “These are all different types of questions that we’re trying to answer.”

Markland said she wanted to thank Kniel and Dallas Hoover, professor of animal and food sciences, for all their help during her time at UD.

Now that she has her doctorate, Markland will start a job as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida.

Markland said she chose to complete her degrees at UD, and in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, because “doors kind of opened at the right time and I took opportunities. I think I was really fortunate and I’ve done really well here. We have one of the best programs in the country, which I think is also why I’ve done so well. We have great professors who are internationally known for the research that they do.”

Melissa Savin receives the 2015 Benton AwardMelissa Savin 

Savin is working on her master’s degree through the graduate program in water science and policy at UD. Her research in the interdisciplinary program has an emphasis on soil and plant science.

As a Kent Conservation District employee, Savin works as an environmental planner stationed in the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Watershed Stewardship: Drainage Program.

“I go out and look at different sites that need improved drainage or restoration. I help in the planning and permitting process to design viable solutions to meet the drainage concerns while protecting the environment. In my position I serve as a liaison between the drainage program and regulatory agencies to gain approval for the project plans.”

Her current job has direct ties to her studies at UD, as Savin said that her research required her to study tax ditches throughout Delaware to improve ditch management.

“I characterized ditch bottom sediments before and after ditch maintenance and simulated current management following maintenance in the lab to determine nutrient loss potential from these networks,” said Savin. “Minimizing nutrient losses from tax ditch networks is important for protecting water quality especially since many of our ditches ultimately drain to the Chesapeake or Delaware Inland Bays.”

Savin said that she was in ditch systems throughout her entire research project and “that’s how I became interested in the Drainage Program. Now I’m working with these guys to address drainage concerns and I hope to apply my knowledge to make the solutions even better.”

Savin said that she wanted to thank Amy Shober, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who she credits with guiding her and conducting interesting research that helped her land in her current career.

Savin said that receiving the award was “pretty awesome. I feel like my hard work really paid off. As a graduate student, you’re working so hard and sometimes you don’t feel like it amounts to anything besides your thesis but to actually be awarded is an honor. I feel like I’m really making a difference.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD researcher finds potential cause of hollow heart disorder in watermelons

An examble of hollow heart disorder in watermelons.
An examble of hollow heart disorder in watermelons.

Hollow heart disorder in watermelons affects growers throughout the United States and threatens the marketability of the fruit, which can lead to monetary losses.

Trying to find a cause and possible solution for the disorder, the University of Delaware’s Gordon Johnson performed a 2014 progressive pollinizer spacing study that showed that increasing the distance from a pollen source increased the incidence of hollow heart and reduced flesh density.

Johnson, a Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetables specialist and an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), was assisted in the research by Donald Seifrit, a graduate student in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A problem with hollow heart disorder is that it is difficult to predict when it will occur, which is frustrating for growers. “It’s not like a disease where you have a fungus or a bacteria or a nematode in the area,” Johnson explained. “It is something that occurs when it occurs, and doesn’t occur when it doesn’t occur.”

Because growers are unable to treat hollow heart through a pesticide or fertilizer application, they lack a defense to protect their crop.

Pollination study

Graduate student Donald Seifrit and Gordon Johnson.
Graduate student Donald Seifrit and Gordon Johnson.

Looking for a solution, Johnson turned to discussions by watermelon researchers that the disorder could be linked to pollination.

In 2010, he conducted a study in which he created situations to limit the pollen available to watermelons to quantify if that would have an effect.

“Basically, I designed a study where watermelons would be a longer or shorter distance from a pollen source,” said Johnson.

Johnson conducted the study on seedless watermelons – although hollow heart also occurs in seeded watermelons – because the bulk of the watermelon industry grows seedless varieties.

The production of seedless watermelons is a bit of a complicated system because the watermelon produces a seedless fruit but requires a pollinizer plant, which is the seeded type. Generally growers plant in a one-to-three ratio, with one seeded watermelon that produces viable pollen for every three seedless watermelons that do not produce viable pollen.

“You have to get the pollen transferred from the pollinizer to the seedless watermelon for fruit set,” Johnson said. “I set up some experiments to put seeded types at varying distances from the seedless, and I found that when you got further from a pollen source (wider ratio of pollinizer to seedless), you got more hollow heart.”

After the initial study, Johnson started repeating the experiments, continuing to put the pollen sources at varying distances or ratios. “Each time I would find that when I got further away (wider ratio), I would have a higher incidence of hollow heart,” he said.

Johnson also found that the flesh density of a watermelon variety plays a role in how it is affected by hollow heart. “When we looked at the more dense varieties versus the less dense varieties, the less dense varieties had more hollow heart, particularly when you moved away from a pollen source,” said Johnson.

To learn more about how density plays a role in watermelons affected by hollow heart, Johnson is looking at the initial number of cells that are being produced in the plant.

A slice of watermelon that has hollow heart disorder.
A slice of watermelon that has hollow heart disorder.

Johnson said that timing and weather conditions also have an impact on watermelons affected by hollow heart.

“It occurs in poor weather conditions, and oftentimes in the early watermelons,” he said. “That’s because we’re more likely to have cold nights or stormy conditions, particularly cold nights, where those early flowers are the most affected.”

Although it is rare to find hollow heart later in the year because growers generally have enough pollen being produced, Johnson said that if growers lose some pollinizers, or if the pollen producing watermelons don’t get planted, problems could still occur.

Industry buy-in

The relationship between hollow heart disorder and the amount of pollen that’s available has been accepted by the industry and Johnson is now able to make recommendations to growers about what factors might favor the disorder.

He points to three factors that could impact the frequency of hollow heart.

• The first is that the grower may not be getting enough pollen produced in the male flowers on the pollinizer plants.

• The second is the transfer of the pollen, which has to be moved from the ,  plants to the seedless plants by bees, may not be occurring at a high enough level.

• The third concerns whether the pollen being produced is actually viable.

“When I talk to growers, I address each one of those areas – the pollen production, the pollen viability and the pollen transfer – and tell them what they can do as far as management in each of those areas,” said Johnson, who has spoken in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Delmarva, the nation’s major Eastern watermelon growing regions.

“I’ve spoken at conferences and to growers and I even had a colleague who was able to repeat some of what I was doing last year. That’s always the telltale sign, when someone is repeating the study and getting similar results,” he said.

The presentations have reached more than 400 watermelon growers representing over 20,000 acres, and the recommendations have been well-received with over 91 percent of growers surveyed in seven states indicating that they would change one or more growing practices due to the research and recommendations presented.

Johnson said that one of the most interesting aspects of the study is that this isn’t his main research focus but more of a side project.

“It just goes to show that in all of the things that you do, you have got to be very observant and cannot be afraid to do side projects because oftentimes those projects are the things that become very important,” said Johnson. “I’ve talked to colleagues in the college and they always have a lot of different things going on, even if they’re not funded by grants. They’re trying different things because you never know where discovery is going to come from.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Gordon Johnson and by Jackie Arpie

Eight UD students selected to participate in Extension Scholars program

2015 UD Extension Scholars announcedEight University of Delaware students began their first day as 2015 Extension Scholars on June 8, marking the start of a 10-week summer experience working with Cooperative Extension research and program outreach in communities throughout the state.

Now in its 11th year, the Extension Scholars program offers UD students a unique, hands-on experiential learning environment under the guidance of Extension agents or specialists.

During this summer internship, students will follow Cooperative Extension’s service learning model, implemented through one of Extension’s four program areas: 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, lawn and garden, and agriculture and natural resources.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension, welcomed the scholars at their first-day orientation and explained how their new role in the Cooperative Extension Service — a 101-year-old system — remains connected today in every state through land grant universities, such as UD, Delaware State University, Cornell University, Rutgers University and Pennsylvania State University.

“I started my career doing something just like this,” Rodgers said, noting that most Cooperative Extension locations throughout the country offer a similar type of summer intern program.

The 2015 University of Delaware Extension Scholars are:

Jackie Arpie: A rising junior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Arpie will work with her mentor, Michele Walfred, communications specialist based at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown. Arpie will concentrate on Extension communications and create video and social media content, and integrate Delaware efforts with the national affiliate eXtension.org. Arpie will focus on Extension efforts statewide, including coverage of her fellow scholars.

Jacqueline Bavaro: A rising senior in the College of Health Sciences (CHS), Bavaro will work with New Castle County’s Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and with 4-H as it implements its summer nutrition programs. She will mentor teen health ambassadors and provide overall nutrition education to young people. Bavaro will work with Sue Snider, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), and Kathleen Splane, family and consumer science agent in Kent County. Bavaro’s internship is funded by the ConAgra Food Smart Families grant.

Rebecca Carroll: A rising senior in CANR with a double major in ecology and biology, Carroll will with work with Gordon Johnson, extension specialist, on climate hub research projects involving Delaware crops and climate change. Carroll plans to compile climate resources for farmers and will organize a climate change field day this summer.

Andrea Davis: A rising junior in CHS, Davis is a health behavior science major with a minor in biology. Davis will partner with Mallory Vogl, New Castle County 4-H agent, and will work with 4-H summer day camps, oversee 4-H teen member volunteer counselors, and conduct county outreach programs at the Delaware State Fair.

Megan O’Day: O’Day is a dietetics major and rising junior in CHS. This summer O’Day will work with both Kent and Sussex EFNEP and 4-H summer nutrition programs, as well as mentor teen health and conduct overall nutrition education for young people. O’Day will work jointly with Snider and Splane under the Food Smart Families grant.

Hunter Murray: A rising senior in CANR, Murray is majoring in food and agribusiness. Murray will be based in Kent County and will work with Susan Garey, Extension livestock agent, on a variety of initiatives including 4-H youth development and agriculture program areas and events at the Delaware State Fair.

Madeleine Rouviere: A rising senior majoring in nutrition and dietetics with a minor in psychology in CHS, Rouviere is slated to work with New Castle County’s EFNEP and 4-H staff with summer nutrition programs, mentor teen health ambassadors, and oversee nutrition education of young people. Rouviere will work with mentors Snider and Splane. Her internship is made possible through the Food Smart Families ConAgra grant.

Kathryn Russel: A rising junior in CHS, Russel is majoring in dietetics with minors in Spanish and journalism. Russel will be working with Snider and Splane on nutrition communications in both traditional and social media venues. One of the projects Russel will be working on is developing short nutrition, food safety and food buying text messages for a special project aimed at EFNEP clientele.

The Extension Scholars program began in 2004 under the leadership of Rodgers’ predecessor, Jan Seitz. The program is funded through endowments, private gifts and Extension program cost-share contributions. Increasingly, scholars are funded through grants, such as ConAgra’s Food Smart Families grant.

The program initially began with an opportunity for three scholars. Rodgers noted that without the gracious gifts of private donors and endowments, the Extension Scholars program would not have expanded to its present capacity. “People who have observed us and what we do have said, ‘This really matters,’” Rodgers said.

In addition to the generous gifts, Rodgers said that this year at least three positions have been funded by ConAgra.

Each Extension Scholar will work a 40-hour week and earn a stipend of $3,770. In addition, scholars may elect to earn three course credits from CANR, supervised by Rodgers as faculty adviser.

As a capstone to the end of their internship in mid-August, the Extension Scholars will participate in the University’s Undergraduate Research and Service Celebratory Symposium.

The symposium provides scholars an opportunity to meet other summer interns and network across UD’s broad student and faculty community. Extension Scholars present their research or creative work through their choice of a 20-minute presentation or through the Scholars Poster Session. View the 2014 symposium photos.

“It’s wonderful to see the Extension Scholar program expand and be supported on so many levels,” Rodgers said. “These young scholars are enthusiastic and ready to do the good work of Extension.”

For updates on the Extension Scholars throughout the summer, follow UD Extension on Twitter @UDExtension and on Facebook.

Article and photo by Michele Walfred

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Microbe mobilizes ‘iron shield’ to block arsenic uptake in rice

Harsh Bais (second in from right) (Associate Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences), is the Senior Author for research on rice plants. He is working with co-authors Janine Sherrier (left) (Professor of Plant & Soil Sciences) and Angelia Seyfferth (right) (Assistant Professor of Plant & Soil Sciences), and first author Venkatachalam Lakshmanan (second in from left)(Post-Doctoral Researcher)University of Delaware researchers have discovered a soil microbe that mobilizes an “iron shield” to block the uptake of toxic arsenic in rice.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and soils, air and water, plants and animals. It’s used in a variety of industrial products and practices, from wood preservatives, pesticides and fertilizers, to copper smelting. Chronic exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The UD finding gives hope that a natural, low-cost solution — a probiotic for rice plants — may be in sight to protect this global food source from accumulating harmful levels of one of the deadliest poisons on the planet. Rice currently is a staple in the diet of more than half the world’s population.

Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, led the UD team that conducted the study, which is reported in the international journal Planta. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation. His co-authors include professors Angelia Seyfferth and Janine Sherrier and postdoctoral researchers Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, Gang Li and Deepak Shantharaj, all in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

The soil microbe the team identified is named “EA106” for UD alumna Emily Alff, who isolated the strain when she was a graduate student in Bais’ lab. The microbe was found among the roots of a North American variety of rice grown commercially in California. It belongs to a group of gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria called the Pantoea, which form yellowish mucus-like colonies. 

Because rice is grown underwater — often in water contaminated with arsenic in such hot spots as Bangladesh, India and China — it takes in 10 times more arsenic than do other cereal grains, such as wheat and oats.

As rice plants absorb phosphate, a nutrient needed for growth, they also take up arsenic, which has a similar chemical structure.

“This particular microbe, EA106, is good at mobilizing iron, which competes with the arsenic, effectively blocking arsenic’s pathway,” Bais explains. “An iron plaque forms on the surface of the roots that does not allow arsenic to go up into the rice plant.”

The researchers conducted the study with hundreds of rice plants — some grown in soil, others grown hydroponically — in UD’s Fischer Greenhouse. Inoculations with EA106 improved the uptake of iron at the plant roots, while reducing the accumulation of toxic arsenic in the plant shoots.

While the results are promising, Bais says the next steps in the research will determine if a natural solution to this serious issue is at hand.

“We’re not all the way to the grain level yet. We are working on that now, to see if EA106 prevents arsenic accumulation in the grain. That is the ultimate test,” Bais says.

If the next phase of the research shows success, Bais says inexpensive technologies (think even a cement mixer) exist for coating rice seeds with beneficial bacteria.

He also sees an added plus — fortifying rice plants with iron would not only reduce arsenic, but also increase the grain’s iron content as a nutritional benefit.

“I grew up very near to a rice field in India, so I have a different interest in this problem,” Bais says. “Basically, these small farmers don’t have much to feed their families. They grow rice on small plots of land with soil and water contaminated with arsenic, a poison. The work we are doing is important for them, and to the global security of rice.”

In related research, Bais wants to assess the performance of plants inoculated with EA106 when they face multiple stresses, from both arsenic and from rice blast, a fungus that kills an estimated 30 percent of the world’s rice crop each year.

Bais’ group previously isolated a natural bacterium from rice paddy soil that blunts the rice blast fungus. His group is evaluating how a natural alliance between benign microbes and rice can strengthen the plant’s disease resistance.

Both plant threats face rice farmers near his parents’ home in India. Bais plans to start field tests there when he visits with family this summer.

“The whole world is waking up to biologicals,” Bais says. “It’s an exciting time for researchers in this area.”

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo of researchers by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Fooks receives the 2015 George Herbert Ryden Dissertation Prize

Jacob Fooks receives the George Ryden Award for outstanding dissertationAlfred Lerner College of Business and Economics doctoral graduate Jacob Fooks has been awarded the 2015 George Herbert Ryden Prize in Social Sciences, presented annually by the University of Delaware’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education for the outstanding dissertation in the field.

Fooks, who received his doctorate in economics at Commencement on Saturday, May 30, is a postdoctoral researcher for UD’s Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC).

Fooks, who also holds a master’s degree in agricultural and resource economics from UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was presented the Ryden Prize during the doctoral hooding ceremony on Friday, May 29.

His dissertation, titled “Essays on Computational Methods in Land and Resource Economics,” included several essays on the theme of applying computational models from the natural sciences methods to several problems in economic valuation and regulation.

One of the essays looked specifically at sea level rise in coastal protective infrastructure and used complex surging wave dynamics and simulations and data on competitive behavior from research participants to see how better policies and subsidy mechanisms can be developed to minimize damage.

Fooks said the study was set up to be fairly generic so that it could be applied to different areas threatened by sea level rise.

“It looked specifically at how regulators can subsidize investment decisions that decreases damage, sea walls or dune nourishment, given that individuals may have different, private values for these things,” said Fooks.

Of receiving the award, Fooks said, “It was unexpected and I’m very honored. It’s a little surreal but very exciting.”

Fooks said that he had many people to thank and that the award was “as much a reflection of the lab and the team here and all the support that I’ve gotten from them. My advisers, Kent Messer and Michael Arnold, especially have been incredibly supportive, as well as both the APEC department and the economics department which I have worked with. And most importantly my family who’ve shared the struggles of graduate school with me for the last five or six years.”

Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, said of Fooks receiving the award, “Jacob’s work on a wide array of agricultural, natural resource and environmental economics topics is truly groundbreaking, as exemplified by his impressive publication record and his National Science Foundation dissertation award.”

Now that he has received his doctorate, Fooks will begin working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service’s Conservation and Environment branch.

Fooks said he is excited to start work and that he will hold a research position with a heavy policy connection, focusing on “both academic publishing, as well as producing policy oriented briefs on what the implications are for federal environmental and resource policy.”

In the role, he will also be able to continue to work closely with the CEAE.

“I’m sure I’ll continue to work closely with this center, which is really great because it’s been such a supportive environment and place to work,” Fooks said. “We have worked very closely with the group that I’ll been working with in the past – actually I’ve been working with several of my future coworkers more or less since I started my master’s program in the APEC department.”

Article by Adam Thomas and Sunny Rosen

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