UD student gets hands-on experience in South African veterinary clinic

Sydney Bruck worked in South African rehabilitation center and veterinary clinicThe first time University of Delaware student Sydney Bruck went to South Africa she was 17 and about to go off to the college, and while she knew she wanted to have a job working with animals, she had little experience and no idea what particular area she wanted to specialize in.

When she returned to South Africa this winter, after one and a half years studying pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences (PVAB) in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at UD, she was not only certain about her career path but she was able to gain additional hands-on experience, applying the knowledge gained at UD to good use in the field.

Bruck, who majors in PVAB and minors in wildlife conservation and biology, first traveled to South Africa through the African Conservation Experience (ACE) program. ACE placed her with two organizations, Khulula Care for Wild and the Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience, which set her up with a position at the Blouberg Animal Clinic.

With the Khulula program, Bruck was in the town of Nelspruit for a month taking care of wildlife in a rehabilitation center. She said it was a full-time responsibility that saw her doing tasks like waking up to feed kittens at 3 a.m. or warming baby rhinos who couldn’t regulate their body temperatures during the night.

“It was a completely selfless experience and it really helped me grow as a person,” said Bruck.

The experience was also one that took her completely away from the comforts of home, as the town was an hour away from civilization.

“We lived in the bush. There was barely any electricity, not much running water and you had to build a fire for a hot shower. I was 17 doing this and I flew over there by myself, didn’t know anyone there — it was really to get myself out of my comfort zone and grow up, learn what I wanted to do,” Bruck said.

The program also allowed her to see parts of South Africa, including the Kruger National Park, and taught her a lot about leadership, as every week she had to pass on information to new recruits who came into the program. She was also exposed to exotic animals.

Perhaps most importantly, the service trip taught Bruck that she didn’t want to take care of animals around the clock for a living. “It didn’t really inspire me to become a veterinarian because it’s a lot of work taking care of animals every single day, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

She discovered what she wanted to do during the second program, which was in a bigger town and dealt with companion animals as well as calls to farms.

“It was such a different experience,” said Bruck. “I actually had a proper bed, a real shower, so it was definitely different. We shadowed a wildlife vet and that’s what I really loved doing.”

Bruck said that she was given a lot of trust by the veterinarians at the clinic who gave her important tasks to complete, such as helping to administer blood, tuberculosis and pregnancy tests to 40 water buffalo and then giving them anti-parasite medicine during her first day on the job.

“It was completely out of my comfort zone but it was such a rush getting out into the field and dealing with antelopes, wildebeests and buffalo,” said Bruck.

At this program, Bruck also got to work with companion animals in the veterinary clinic and she established connections that allowed her to travel back to South Africa this past winter.

“The first time around, I wasn’t qualified to take any of those experiences and really learn and possibly apply those in the future if I become a vet because I had no background,” said Bruck. “So studying at UD and going through all the classes and being here for one and a half years and then going back was amazing because I actually had some background. During class, I could actually go back and realize, ‘Oh, this is what we were doing then.’”

This time around, Bruck spent two months in South Africa, working more with companion animals in a clinic, helping with surgeries and replacing and giving IV lines to puppies afflicted with parvovirus, which is a big issue in South Africa.

With regard to the surgeries, Bruck said that one of the veterinarians there commended her on her ability to jump in and help out but to also stay away when she wasn’t needed, which she said can be equally important in that setting.

Bruck would also go around on vaccination consultations, learning what to look for during routine checks and picking up some of the South African Afrikaans language.

All this work in the clinic helped Bruck realize exactly how she wants to help out animals in her future career.

“Once I got to the veterinary side, I realized that I don’t like taking care of animals. I like treating them. And I think that’s a huge distinction that I don’t think many people can see,” said Bruck. “I don’t want to walk the dog, or feed the dog, but if you come to me with a problem, I will give it my heart and try my best to fix it.”

Bruck also said that it is important for those who are thinking about a veterinary career to realize there are a lot of areas to the field and to find one that works best for them, which to her means treating companion animals. “You know it’s always a struggle between money and happiness but I think that in this case, happiness would probably have to stay with the companion animals.”

As for her continued visits to South Africa, Bruck said that she can “definitely picture when people are begging me to retire, I could see myself moving to South Africa to open a clinic there just to see if I can bring anything to the table. It definitely brought a lasting mark to my life. They gave me so much that I’ll bring with me forever so if I could give that back in any way, that would be fantastic.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Sydney Bruck

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Two UD seniors selected as Peace Corps volunteers in Africa, South America

Abby Kramer and Kerry Snyder have been selected to go to the Peace CorpsTwo University of Delaware seniors, Abby Kramer and Kerry Snyder, have been selected as Peace Corps volunteers for 2015.

According to the Peace Corps organization, its volunteers “reflect the very best of humanity, innovation and aspiration for a better tomorrow.”

Kramer, an Honors Program student majoring in environmental science, will volunteer in Senegal as an agroforestry extension agent.

“I will be working within a local community to fight agricultural issues such as deforestation and food insecurity,” she said, “while developing more sustainable agricultural practices.”

The current Peace Corps student ambassador on campus, Kramer has been interested in joining the Peace Corps since high school because of her interest in travel and the opportunity to look into broader issues that affect the lives of people around the world.

An Honors Program student majoring in wildlife conservation, Snyder will serve in Paraguay, where she will work with children, farmers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote conservation.

While Snyder has not yet received her permanent location placement in Paraguay, she looks forward to employing knowledge from her major and environmental humanities minor to potentially train teachers, participate in educational work and work on ecotourism projects wherever she is placed in the country.

Snyder’s interest in becoming a more globally engaged citizen is what led her to pursue Peace Corps service.

After studying abroad in Cambodia during her sophomore year, she wanted to do more. “With study abroad there is a lot of observing and seeing what things are like in another country,” Snyder said. “I want to become a part of a community.”

Kramer and Snyder join an elite group of 308 UD alumni who have served as Peace Corps volunteers. Currently 20 UD alumni are still serving in the field.

Applying to be a Peace Corps volunteer

Students interested in applying to the Peace Corps should visit the website for more information. Applicants must be U.S. citizens who are 18 years of age, and should submit their application nine months to one year in advance of their desired departure date. Volunteer opportunities include two-year assignments in more than 60 countries, 3-12 month “high impact” assignments, and one-year physician and nurse volunteer options.

In addition, Kramer will host a Peace Corps screening and panel presentation on Wednesday, March 11, from 7-9 p.m. at the Career Services Center on Academy Street. The event will highlight winners from last year’s video competition, which had as its theme, “What I Wish Americans Knew About My Host Country.”

About the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is an international volunteer program in which Americans are able to completely immerse themselves in a culture unlike their own. Today, volunteers have the opportunity to serve in one of six sectors — education, health, youth in development, agriculture, environment, or community economic development — in over 64 countries across the world.

Since its inception in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, nearly 220,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 140 countries worldwide.

March 1 marked the Peace Corps’ 54th anniversary. To commemorate its founding over half a century ago, “Peace Corps Week” celebrations occurred across the United States.

Article by Jessica Franzetti

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

CANR to host annual community push lawn mower tune-up service

Alpha Gamma Rho will host their annual lawn mower tune-up starting April 10The University of Delaware’s Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity for agriculture and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Club are once again offering a push lawn mower tune-up service on Friday, April 10, and Saturday, April 11, rain or shine.

The event will be held at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus, with pick up on Saturday, April 11, and Sunday, April 12.

Over 7,000 mowers have been serviced at the event since 2000.

The tune-up is provided by trained students and alumni members of the clubs and includes washing the mower, an oil change, spark plug replacement, air filter cleaning and blade sharpening.

Service performed is tune-up only; no repairs will be performed and no riding mowers will be accepted.

Richard Morris, UD farm manager and adviser for AGR, said it is a good idea to have a lawn mower tuned up every year in order to make it last longer. He also noted that the event has a lot of repeat customers.

Jason Morris, a junior in CANR, said that there will be about 30-40 volunteers this year, including current members of AGR, each of whom will volunteer for a minimum of 15 hours, and SAE, and also some AGR alumni.

The cost of the tune-up is $38. Payment in the form of cash or check may be made at drop off. Checks should be made out to Alpha Gamma Rho.

Drop off times are from 2-8 p.m. on Friday, April 10, and from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 11.

Customers can pick up their mowers on Saturday from 1-6 p.m. for the first 300 mowers taken on Friday, or on Sunday, April 12, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. for the remaining mowers.

All mowers must be picked up by 2 p.m. on Sunday. The owners of any mowers not picked up by Sunday will be charged a storage fee.

Richard Morris said he wanted to “thank the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for letting us take over their parking lot and for having the full support from the dean and the college.”

Lawn mowers may be dropped off and picked up in the parking lot behind Worrilow and Townsend halls on UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus at 531 S. College Ave., just north of the Fred Rust Ice Arena. Look for signs for the tune-up.

For more information, contact Jason Morris of AGR at jcmorris@udel.edu or 302-388-7475.

UD statistics student works on analytics for hockey, basketball teams

Marc Rothman, Junior in APEC (Applied Economics and Statistics), does statistics work for the UD hockey and basketball teams.University of Delaware student Marc Rothman has always been interested in sports and statistics so when he saw an email from Tom Ilvento, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, looking for students interested in doing statistics and analytics for the women’s ice hockey team, he jumped at the opportunity.

Rothman, a junior majoring in statistics and actuarial science, spent the last few months working as the director of analytics for the women’s ice hockey club team. He looked at statistics and trends that would help give the team an edge on its opponents.

Rothman compiled all of the basic statistics — goals, assists and face-off win percentage — into an Excel spread sheet and said the biggest impact he had on the team was when it came to face-offs, as he helped them learn more about their face-off win percentage.

The team was 7-14 last year and this year, with Jesse McNulty taking over as head coach, they finished the season 12-4-1. Rothman said McNulty told him that the team’s adjustments based on his data analysis is the major reason that the team improved their record.

Rothman said he is very appreciative of the opportunity and all the support McNulty has given him, as it has led to other opportunities beyond hockey. One such opportunity involved an analysis of ticket sales for the Wilmington Blue Rocks minor league baseball team, considering how promotional games and weather affect sales. He also looked at monthly and day-to-day statistics for the past three years.

“I looked at that data with a statistical program called JMP and I was able to graph the results and send it to the coach. He and his high school sports analytics club are presenting it to the general manager of the Blue Rocks in a few weeks,” said Rothman. “That is one great thing about McNulty, he opened up a lot of opportunities.”

Basketball scouting reports

In addition to the women’s ice hockey team, Rothman also worked with the UD varsity men’s basketball team. He compiled scouting reports on UD opponents prior to games, using statistics collected from websites such as Sports-Reference.com, as well as watching the other teams play.

Rothman said that college basketball has a wealth of statistical information available online, which helped him spot trends for certain players.

“There are websites that have all of these players’ game logs, so what I mostly do in my scouting reports for the team is look at the opponents and look at their trends. I look at stats but the really interesting analytics are trends — like when someone gets the ball, whether they’re going to shoot without dribbling, or drive to the basket, or drive left or right. All of that data is available,” said Rothman.

Rothman said that even though he loves statistics, he does not believe they can tell a person everything they need to know about what a player does on the court. He likes to look at the numbers first and then watch the games — or vice versa — to help him get a sense of how particular players play the game. He also stresses the importance of trends.

“In sports like basketball and hockey, I think trends are very valuable, especially to add to stats like points per game and field goal percentage,” said Rothman. “What’s really great about the trends is that you can see it in the games but you can also put numbers to it to see what percentage of the time someone drives right or drives left, among other tendencies, and this helps make valuable conclusions.

“You can understand basic trends from watching the game but putting numbers behind it to back it up is something you can go to the players and give them the information. I really like when numbers back up what I’m trying to argue.”

Rothman, who grew up loving baseball statistics, said that he originally applied to colleges with the idea of majoring in business. When he took an Advanced Placement statistics class as a senior in high school and had to do a project analyzing NFL running backs and their statistics, however, he set his mind on a career in statistics. That idea was reaffirmed during a visit to the UD campus.

“When I visited Delaware, I sat with Dr. Ilvento and talked to him for about an hour about statistics and what you can do with them and how it’s going to be the next big thing and about how all of these jobs are becoming available. That conversation really helped me decide to come to Delaware. I talk to Ilvento all the time about this stuff,” said Rothman.

If there is one thing that he wants people to know about sports statistics and analytics, it’s that sports statisticians can be athletes themselves.

“A lot of people think sports statistics are analyzed by people who never played sports or never knew anything about sports and they’re just trying to get into the sports world. That’s what Charles Barkley said a few weeks ago, and I completely disagree with that,” said Rothman. “I’m not saying statistics have to be the end all decision maker of sports but I think analytics really offer an additional tool and a really important additional tool at that. And I think you’re crazy if you don’t use analytics to some extent, whether it be statistics or trends.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD professors honored for work on sustainable landscape project

Jules Bruck and Sue Barton received a Land Ethics Award for their demonstration garden at ApplecrossUniversity of Delaware professors Jules Bruck and Sue Barton have received the Land Ethics Award in the residential category from Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve for their work on a sustainable demonstration project in the northern New Castle County community of Applecross.

They were presented the award at the 15th annual Land Ethics Symposium on Thursday, March 12, at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

According to the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve website, the purpose of the Land Ethics Award is to honor and recognize individuals, organizations, government agencies, community groups and business professionals who have made significant contributions to the promotion of native plants and have exhibited a strong land ethic while promoting sustainable designs that protect the environment.

For their particular project, the awards jury noted that the project “clearly demonstrated what can happen when several partners collaborate to change a sterile home landscape into one of environmental value. One can only think that the neighbors will be queuing up themselves to upgrade their own properties with similar projects.”

Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), said the award carries great meaning. “I’m happy that it’s a Land Ethics Award and I think that’s just such a nice way to honor how designers can make a difference in land stewardship versus our traditional role, which has just been more aesthetic based,” she said.

The Applecross demonstration project was designed and installed by researchers and students at UD and displays sustainable practices that reduced the lawn area of a residential yard by 50 percent while maintaining enough lawn for circulation, play and entertaining.

The project began in April 2012 and, since then, those involved with the project have increased plant diversity by 500 percent, improved water quality and quantity on the property and planted the area with 95-97 percent native plants.

The landscape also includes a 6,000-square-foot meadow and a 3,000-square-foot reforestation area. Turf paths wind through the meadow and landscape beds and connect large areas of lawn.

“The idea was to show people that you can incorporate a meadow and a forest into a residential landscape,” said Barton, associate professor of plant and soil sciences.

In addition to being functional, the landscape is also visually appealing, something that Barton stressed because she believes that sometimes when people hear about native landscapes, they think only of the functionality and not of the aesthetic appeal.

“Almost all the plants are native and they’re quite showy. Sometimes native plants have a connotation of being less formal, less colorful, a compromise, and they’re not a compromise at all. It’s a very dramatic landscape. There’s almost always something blooming,” said Barton.

Bruck added that while the landscape is quite different from the yards of the surrounding houses from a functional and ecological perspective, it doesn’t look that much different from the front, as most of the showy aspects are more toward the back of the property.

“I thought it was really interesting that the sustainable landscape that we put around the entire house just didn’t look that much different than everybody else’s landscape,” said Bruck. “It wasn’t like a wild look. It wasn’t a messy look. It was well cared for, well maintained.”

Bruck said that even though they used a large quantity of native plants in order to cover the ground and make it dense, the landscape is still orderly.

“I think orderly is one of the things that doesn’t always translate when people think about native landscapes or ecological landscapes. We still use design principles to guide our placement of plants. They’re not supposed to be wild, messy landscapes just because they have native plants in them, and they are highly functioning landscapes,” said Bruck.

In addition to being visually appealing and ecologically functional, the landscape also provides a great teaching tool for students and for members of the community at large, as there have been at least five public tours of the site.

One of the tours was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, and it attracted several hundred people. The last tour in October 2014 drew around 80 people.

“Master Gardeners have gone and we’ve brought professionals there as part of the turf and landscape expo that we hold in Hockessin every November,” Barton said.

When the project wraps up in August, Barton said the space can still serve as a learning tool for the future because of a large number of photographs of the project that are available.

“We have hundreds of images of Applecross so that even though we can’t bring tours back to that site anymore, we have it documented in photos so that we can use that as an educational resource forever,” said Barton.

Now that the demonstration site will be closing, Barton said that they are hopeful they can find space at the University to demonstrate how homeowners can incorporate a meadow or forest using native plants in a home landscape.

The demonstration garden was funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) that was awarded to Barton, Bruck, Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC), Shreeram Inamdar, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Doug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC).

In addition to many volunteers, contributors to the project include North Creek Nurseries, Octoraro Nursery and Steve Gantz of All Seasons Landscaping.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources announces date for annual Ag Day

Ag Day 2015 will be held April 25Ag Day, an annual tradition of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at the University of Delaware, will be held on Saturday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The theme of Ag Day 2015 is “Farm to Table.”

The Food Bank of Delaware will be on hand to accept donations of non-perishable food items. There will also be a “Farm to Table” recipe contest.

Members of the campus community, and the surrounding community, are encouraged to join the college for a day filled with music, exhibitors, great food and fun on UD’s South Campus.

Celebrating all that the college has to offer, visitors can experience everything from bird shows to bee demonstrations, livestock exhibits, 4-H arts and crafts, farm tours, plant sales, and much more.

The event will be held at CANR’s Townsend Hall, located at 531 South College Avenue in Newark. Both admission and parking are free and the event is open to the public.

Ag Day is family friendly, however, for the safety of the live animal demonstrations, organizers ask that all pets be left at home.

Registration for exhibitors and vendors is now open and runs until Friday, March 20. Registration is available on the Ag Day website. 

The website also features additional information, announcements and schedules, and will be updated as the event approaches.

Photo by Danielle Quigley

UDairy Creamery helps university creameries share ice cream, cheeses in DC

UDairy Creamery at CARET Conference in D.C.The University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery offered a helping hand to fellow university-based creameries from around the United States, serving its own ice cream as well as treats from 12 other institutions during a special event March 2 in Washington, D.C.

The selections were served during the 2015 meeting of the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching (CARET), which is part of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

The national event draws deans from universities with agricultural colleges and schools to Capitol Hill. Several members of Congress and 200 congressional staff members also attended.

Fourteen workers from the UDairy Creamery were stationed alongside federal relations officers from each institution at booths throughout the room to serve ice cream to visitors.

Melinda Litvinas, UDairy Creamery manager, said UD offered to serve ice cream from the other universities as UD is the closest creamery to Washington.

Because all the food had to be inspected before it could be brought into federal facilities, it made sense for the UDairy Creamery to take the items as its proximity meant fewer time constraints.

Of the creameries in attendance, 12 had ice cream, seven offered ice cream and cheese, and one had cheese only.

“I think it was good opportunity for all the schools demonstrate their value because the congressional staff members who work with these universities aren’t at the creameries all the time,” Litvinas said. “It was nice for the schools to be able to show off in D.C. and there’s a lot of talk about making it an annual event.”

In addition to helping the creameries show their wares, the UDairy Creamery will host the University Creamery Managers Association annual meeting from June 17-18 in Townsend Hall. At the event, all 21 university creamery managers from across the country will be invited to visit UD.

Some of the creameries that sent ice cream or cheese to the event were Pennsylvania State University, Clemson University, the University of Missouri, the University of Wisconsin and South Dakota State University.

UD alumnus finds potentially dangerous fleas on New York City rats

Matt Frye conducts research on fleas in NYCWhen University of Delaware alumnus Matt Frye signed on to work with researchers from Columbia University studying pathogens of Norway rats in New York City, he knew that as the team’s entomologist he would be combing the rats for critters such as fleas, lice and mites.

What he didn’t know was that he would find such a high rate of the oriental rat flea — an insect that hasn’t been documented in New York since the 1920s and is a known vector for several important human diseases such as murine typhus and the plague.

The results of these findings were reported recently in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Despite their name, Frye explained that Norway rats actually come from Asia and through the years have traveled the world with humans on wagons and trade ships, carrying a familiar set of ectoparasites as they make their way across the globe.

“Studies that are specifically interested in rat ectoparasites tend to find the same cast of characters,” said Frye. For example, researchers in Hawaii — Pingjun Yang, Sandra Oshiro and Wesley Warashina from the Hawaii Department of Health –published a paper in 2009 that found all the same ectoparasites on their rats that Frye and the Columbia research team found in New York.

“We were not necessarily surprised to find any of these critters, but we were surprised at the numbers that we found,” said Frye, an extension educator with the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program at Cornell University

The group collected the data over a one-year period from five different sites in the city, specifically areas where rats and humans are most likely to have direct contact with one another.

All told, Frye took samples from 133 rats and collected a total of 545 fleas. Of those 133 rats, he said that about 30 percent were infested with fleas.

“The interesting thing is that the fleas were unevenly distributed by site. At the outdoor site, a single flea was collected from 26 rats. Meanwhile, all 20 rats from another site had fleas, and that site accounted for 94.1 percent of the total 545 fleas we collected,” said Frye. “The implication is that a more thorough survey of rats is needed to understand the distribution of ectoparasites in New York City.”

At the site where all 20 rats had fleas, Frye collected 83 fleas from just one rat, which could be cause for alarm according to plague surveillance literature. Frye said that a flea index — the total number of fleas divided by the total number of rodents captured — below 1.0 represents a remote possibility of a disease outbreak.

“In 1925 in New York, the flea index was 0.22. In our study, the index was 4.1 for all 133 rats, and 5.1 for rats caught indoors. That was surprising,” he said.

However remote, the potential exists for diseases like murine typhus and the plague to surface, Frye said, noting, “We have the rats, we have the vector that can transfer pathogens from the rats to humans, so it’s sort of a recipe for disaster if plague or typhus were introduced.”

Frye is hoping that the revelation of the high numbers of oriental rat fleas discovered in New York City’s rat population will lead to more research on the subject.

“The purpose of this study was to take a first look at what pathogens and ectoparasites are present on Norway rats New York City,” said Frye. “However, our study was limited in scope, and has led to more questions than answers. For instance, we do not know the distribution of these organisms, nor do we know if the conditions are right to sustain something like plague. What we do know is that more work is needed to better understand the risk of exposure to rodent-borne disease for New Yorkers.”

The researchers also discovered several new species of viruses and some pathogens that haven’t been recorded before in New York City. The results of those findings were released in a paper published last year by the American Society for Microbiology.

The viruses are listed as two novel hepaciviruses, one novel pegivirus and one novel pestivirius. Frye explained because the viruses are new and were detected using novel screening methods, the researchers “don’t know much about the viruses and if or how they might impact human health.”

Time at UD

While at UD, Frye worked with Judy Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology, for six years studying biological control of invasive plants, specifically kudzu, as both a master’s and doctoral student.

As a master’s student, Frye conducted research on a specific insect and its potential to control the plant — which ultimately didn’t work out due to the insect’s appetite for soybeans — and as a doctoral level student, he looked at different types of damage with kudzu to see if any reduced the plant’s growth and reproduction.

Frye said that his time at UD working with Hough-Goldstein and the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology was beneficial to his career.

“Our department at the time was relatively small, so there was a lot of interaction between graduate students and faculty that I found to be exceptionally valuable. I felt very fortunate to have Dr. Hough-Goldstein as an adviser, because she was very organized and helped her students develop as scientists,” said Frye.

In his role with the New York State IPM Program, Frye said that he provides training, demonstrations, workshops and creates educational materials about pest management and specifically structural or urban pest management, which deals with the insects that infest buildings, schools and homes.

He said that his favorite part of his job is “working with people. I get to interact with homeowners, with universities, and pest professionals. Helping people find a solution to their pest problem is a very rewarding experience.”

Article by Adam Thomas

New research characterizes novel aspects of maize reproduction

Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and Chair for Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, along with his research team Kun Huang, Atul Kakrana, Parth Patel, TC, Saleh Tamim, Reza Hammond, and Sandra Mathioni in plots of corn on the UD farm. Dr. Meyers's "research includes programs that emphasize bioinformatics and plant functional genomics."Male reproductive organ development in maize involves a complex array of ribonucleic acid molecules (RNAs) with potentially diverse activities in gene regulation, demonstrated by new research from the University of Delaware and Stanford University.

In addition, this work suggests that the beginning phases of such development in maize and mammals – two very different life forms – have some intriguing molecular parallels.

The research findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by a team of scientists led at UD by Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences.

The first author on the paper is Jixian Zhai, a former graduate student who worked with Meyers and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Zhai was a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Life Science Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Meyers collaborated with Virginia Walbot, professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford University, to characterize maize anthers — the male reproductive organs — that had been carefully staged through the developmental transition and were perfect for the molecular studies in which the UD team has specialized.

The Walbot lab has a longstanding interest and expertise in anther development, and they work with a large collection of male-sterile maize mutants with altered anther development. Analysis of a subset of those mutants provided key insights in the study.

With the materials from the Stanford group, Meyers said the researchers put the plant tissues through an analysis pipeline that his lab has developed and refined in the years since he came to UD in 2002. This work involves purifying and sequencing the small RNAs from the anthers and integrating the resulting data into a computational software package

“We were really excited to see the results when we noticed a tremendous increase in the abundance of these molecules that was perfectly timed to developmental transitions that take place in the anther,” said Meyers.

Their work built on and extended findings from data published earlier by other labs in a study focused on rice. That earlier study showed the abundance of some of the same molecules in reproductive tissues, but lacked the temporal resolution of the staged maize anthers used by the Meyers and Walbot labs and the spatial resolution provided by the mutants and other advanced localization techniques they employed.

Because maize has a separate male inflorescence (the tassel) and female inflorescence (the ear), the researchers were able to study the male flower separate from the female flower, a further advantage over working in rice, which has combined male and female flowers.

With Walbot’s lab able to dissect the anthers at very precise stages — from their earliest origins when they are only a fraction of a millimeter in length all the way up to the mature anthers, which are about five millimeters — the research team was able to assess the developmental transition from early anthers to mature pollen.

“We could see that these RNAs fell out into two classes: an early class and a middle-to-late class,” said Meyers.

Meyers explained that the early class corresponds to developmental events in which the cell types are becoming organized, defining the cellular architecture of the anther, whereas the later class corresponds exactly to meiosis, the process of production of the haploid microspores that ultimately mature into the pollen grains.

“We could see that the increases in the abundance of these two groups of small RNAs exactly corresponded with those two developmental phases,” said Meyers.

Maize and mammals

Where this intersects with mammals and animal developmental biology is that there has been a lot of work in mammals on a very unusual class of small RNAs that are particularly abundant and enriched in male reproductive organs during early development.

“These mammalian small RNAs, called piRNAs, have a very unique pathway for their production. Tremendously abundant and in mammals, there are two classes: an early class and a kind of middle to late class. We were intrigued to see in maize several analogous features; yet the plant and animal small RNAs abundant in male reproduction share no apparent common origin,” said Meyers. “We think that they are independently evolved in the lineages of plants and in mammals.”

What the researchers don’t know yet is whether there are analogies of function.

“All we know for now is that there are several unusual similarities between these classes of RNAs. And to use these methods to characterize the unique yet analogous aspects of the plant reproductive small RNAs was a particularly rewarding part of the work,” said Meyers.

Different from Arabidopsis

Maize and rice, the two plant species best characterized for these novel small RNAs, are in the branch of the plant kingdom that’s known as the monocots, one of the major groups of flowering plants.

Another major group of flowering plants — the eudicots — contains the plant species most studied at the molecular level, the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

In Arabidopsis thaliana, however, there is no evidence that these two classes of small RNAs exist, let alone are enriched during anther development.

Meyers was able to see this firsthand when he collaborated with a group at Cold Spring Harbor to look at small RNAs in Arabidopsis flowers. “That work gave us many insights into small RNAs and plant reproductive biology,” said Meyers. “In that work, we looked at Arabidopsis flowers including comparable stages of anthers and there was no evidence for these classes of small RNAs that we saw in maize. We can conclude that there are distinct but abundant classes of small RNAs in these different lineages of plants.”

This means that maize and the Arabidopsis diverged in their use of small RNAs during evolution, and yet despite this evolutionary divergence, there are signs of a possible convergence between the grasses (i.e. maize) and animals in the use of small RNAs in reproduction.

Spatial mapping 

The paper also describes the development of a spatial map of the production of those small RNAs, combining their collaborators’ expertise in anther biology with microscopy in the Bio-Imaging Center in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI).

“Professor Walbot has collected many male sterile mutants of maize, plants defective, for a wide variety of reasons, in the production of mature, fertile pollen,” said Meyers. “She was able to pick from this collection mutants that she thought would be particularly informative to identify the cell layers required for production of these small RNAs.”

A mature maize anther contains five cell types and the researchers looked at mutants that were defective in one or more cell layers to see if the production of the small RNAs was dependent on one or more of these layers.

The researchers then combined that data from the mutant analysis with microscopic visualization techniques called in situ hybridizations that allowed them to probe dissected tissue for the presence of their RNAs of interest.

“We could essentially say, ‘The mutant analysis indicates that small RNA X is found in cell layer Y; if we use the dissected anther and we apply a labeled version of X, do we observe it in that cell layer?’ These images took advantage of the advanced microscopy at DBI,” said Meyers.

With those data, the researchers were able to reveal specific cell layers required for production of the two classes of small RNAs, allowing them to validate the mutant analysis. One discrepancy in the mutant and hybridization results suggested that at least one set of small RNAs might move across cell layers – a result that they can test in future experiments.

Next steps

Meyers said that the next step for the research is to discover the functional roles of these small RNAs.

“We know they’re extremely abundant, we know that they increase in abundance at very particular stages in anther development, and they’re dependent on very particular cell layers in the anther, but we still don’t know exactly what their functions are. That’s a really intriguing mystery because in the functions of almost all other plants, small RNAs are at least generally well-described,” said Meyers.

This research was funded as part of a four-year, $6.5 million National Science Foundationgrant to analyze developmental events in maize anthers and tassels.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD’s 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit to feature plants from Amazon

UD students work on the Philadelphia Flower Show ExhibitThe University of Delaware exhibit at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show will provide visitors a lesson in the inherent value of abundant plant life, with a focus on useful, edible and therapeutic plants found in the Amazon rainforest.

The exhibit, which has been prepared by students and faculty members in the Design Process Practicum class and the Design and Articulture (DART) student organization, will highlight the diversity of plants found in the Amazon and the capacity of the rich ecosystem to provide medicines for ailments.

The flower show will run Feb. 28 through March 8 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The idea for the theme originated last spring in the interdisciplinary Design Process Practicum class, which is taught by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration; and Jon Cox, assistant professor in the Department of Art.

Students in the class split into three groups and each group had to design a flower show exhibit for three separate clients — the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER), Duffy’s Hope, a service provider for at-risk and hard to reach youth ages 12-17, and Connections Community Support Programs Inc., which provides a comprehensive array of health care, housing and employment opportunities that help individuals and families to achieve their own goals and enhance communities. Through Connections, the students specifically worked with the Sturfels Youth Center, which provides a safe haven for boys and girls who have been arrested but who have not yet been convicted of a criminal offense.

When the professors were unable to choose a winner, they had Sam Lemheney — chief of shows and events for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), director of the Philadelphia Flower Show and an alumnus of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) — pick the project to represent UD. He selected the project of the group that had worked with ACEER.

ACEER is committed to promoting conservation of the Amazon by fostering awareness, understanding, action and transformation, and in keeping with that theme, the UD group decided to highlight the plant life found in that region.

“We’re really going to try to highlight awareness and understanding of the conservation of the Amazon rainforest for the purpose of making sure that we have good access to medicinal plants over time,” said Bruck. “As the forest ecosystems are degraded and eventually lost through poor agricultural practiceswe lose an opportunity to study species and the way indigenous tribes use medicinal plants. The students were really interested in a ‘forest to pharmacy’ concept.”

Paige Gugerty, a senior organizational and community leadership major who is part of DART and is the teaching assistant for the class, said that the forest to pharmacy concept comes from the fact that “in the pharmaceutical industry, a lot of medications that we use, and even some potential cancer fighting drugs, come from plant compounds found in the Amazon. It’s really important to preserve the Amazon because of those plant compounds and the different medicinal and religious uses of what is found there.”

In addition to having an education display, the students were also interested in having a very exuberant, colorful exhibit. To do that, they had to select plants that are both educational and aesthetically pleasing.

To choose the plants for the show, two students — Gugerty and Elinor Brown, a junior in the College of Health Sciences — traveled to Florida in September 2014 with Lemheney to visit nurseries and tree farms.

The fact that Gugerty, a leadership major, and Brown, an exercise science major, were chosen to visit Florida to pick out the flowers speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of the course, something the professors stressed is important to the design process.

“We’re highly interested in crossing disciplines and we’re always trying to get different disciplines to work together to see each other’s perspectives and understand the strengths that each perspective brings that they might be overlooking,” said Middlebrooks. “So the flower show is a perfect opportunity because there are so many details to putting together an exhibit — from the initial exploration of ideas, to generating ideas, to the creative details and the logistics for getting it there, getting it set up, ordering materials, balancing the books, and everything else.”

For their part, the students were thrilled to be selected to travel to Florida.

“I was so grateful that Jules offered up that opportunity to us,” Gugerty said. “The fact that they sent two students was really awesome because neither one of us is from CANR, but we worked together and prepared for the trip and did a lot of our research up front so that when we got to the nurseries, we were able to look at what we wanted to look at and then come back and order pretty quickly.”

Brown added that it was nice to travel with Lemheney and another exhibitor at the flower show because “they have such a connection with people down there and they’re so close. It was really nice being with them and meeting their clients and establishing a connection with them that we can use for the next few years.”

Students prepare for the philadelphia flower show installation, 2015. Sydney Bruck paints laser cut wood plant labels.The students chose most of their flowers from Excelsa Gardens in Loxahatchee as they said Excelsa set the gold standard for nurseries and had a very accommodating staff.

The comprehensive plant list had around 450 plants in total and included bromeliads, gingers, banana palms, orchids, bananas and cocoa.

Cox, who conducted studies in Peru recently, will include in the display some masks and objects from his trip. There will also be baskets that indigenous Peruvians use to gather plants and berries in the exhibit, and ACEER is going to hand out samples of fair trade coffee and promote other fair trade products.

In addition to the plants, the display will also have little bottles hanging from the ceiling to represent the concept of running water, and a CD titled Sounds from the Peruvian Rain Forest will be played. There will also be art from Hillary Parker, an award winning botanic illustrator, with some of her paintings representing this area’s local native plants that have medicinal properties and were once used by indigenous North American peoples.

The theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show is “Celebrate the Movies” and the hope is that people who visit the UD display will walk away knowing that they are in the director’s chair when it comes to conservation and that even though they aren’t in the Amazon, they can have an impact on rain forest conservation by supporting ACEER, buying sustainable products and even planting a forest garden of native plants in their back yards.

“What we want people to walk away with is that everything is connected and that our reliance on medicines derived from tropical plants reminds us to support education and research in products that help conserve and sustain these ecosystems,” said Bruck.

After the show, the plants will be sold at the University’s Ag Day, as most of the items — such as the orchids and the ferns — make for good house plants.

The exhibit is sponsored by PHS and the Hutton Fund, in memory of Richard J. Hutton.

Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences, also contributed to the show.

Middlebrooks said that there is an open invitation to get involved with the project. “This is not a closed project in any way. We are very true to our spirit of creativity and innovation, and anyone who wants to bring their talents or even just their energy and enthusiasm to the group — students, staff, faculty — we’re open to all those kinds of collaborations.”

For those wishing to get involved with the project, contact MiddlebrooksBruck or Cox.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager and courtesy of Paige Gugerty

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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