UD’s Brannick named American Veterinary Medical Association Future Leader

Erin Brannick named American Veterinary Medical Association Future LeaderThe University of Delaware’s Erin Brannick has been named one of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) 2014-15 Future Leaders. 

Brannick, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was one of 10 Future Leaders selected nationally.

The leaders represent a wide range of veterinary medicine disciplines, spanning from the military service to private laboratories to diagnosticians to small or mixed animal practitioners.

“I think that’s one of the powers of the program — that we’re bringing together such a breadth of our profession on this small team,” said Brannick. “We will bring all those different perspectives into moving a project forward, as well as helping each other gain leadership experience and skills.”

Nominated by the American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP), Brannick said that it was a tremendous honor to be selected as a Future Leader.

“It is definitely an honor to be named one of the Future Leaders, especially knowing that I was selected from all of my peers across the country. I’m very thankful and grateful to the AAAP for that honor,” said Brannick.

As a Future Leader, Brannick will participate in a yearlong leadership-training program as well as a project that will end up feeding back to the AVMA as a whole.

For this year’s project, Brannick said that the group wants to focus on the theme of workplace wellness, specifically wellness of the veterinarians themselves.

“Our particular group decided that we wanted to focus on workplace wellness and so we’re thinking across the breadth of veterinary workplaces, from academia to pharmaceutical or industry to private practices, and what individual veterinarians need to be able to work in a healthy way in that environment,” said Brannick.

Brannick said that creating a healthy work environment could encompass working on interpersonal relationships, balancing work with private life, taking time out to exercise, and learning how to cope with being a compassionate caregiver every day, as well as figuring out ways to handle potential emotional stress in their clients or staff.

A private consultant has been brought in to lead the workshops that will develop further leadership skills within the group and get the group working as a team.

In addition, the leaders completed a “360 assessment,” in which they received leadership commentary, completed self-reviews and got feedback from peers, supervisors and superiors within their organizations.

“That is supposed to give us a more rounded approach to how to best develop our unique leadership skills and talents,” said Brannick. “The hope, ultimately, is that these future leaders will truly become the leaders in local, state and national organizations so that it will end up benefiting veterinary medicine as a whole by developing individuals who will take the charge and lead our organizations to the next phases.”

Brannick said she had not considered applying for the program until she happened to see a photograph of Barbara Schmidt, a former mentor from a high school veterinary internship and the current treasurer of the AVMA, gracing the cover of one of the organization’s journals.

“I had shadowed her on multiple farm visits and then one day here at UD, I ended up grabbing one of the AVMA journals and there on the front cover was her picture. I started reading and it really got me thinking. Even though I felt like I was just one person — what could I possibly do? — I realized that if everyone felt like that, nothing would get done, so maybe it was time to take my leadership to a national level and show that to others,” said Brannick.

Having taken her leadership to that next level and received national recognition, Brannick is hoping to have the same impact on some of her pre-veterinary students that Schmidt had on her.

“I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to show my students leadership at a national level,” she said. “I hope that as my pre-veterinary students come up into veterinary medicine, they’ll consider what they can do to give back to their profession and how they can make an impact at a regional or national level.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

New book by UD professor highlights latest work in land economics

Josh Duke editor of new Oxford Handbook of Land EconomicsWhen Oxford University Press set out to publish a handbook in each field of economics, they selected the University of Delaware’s Josh Duke to be a co-editor of the volume focused on land economics.

The work, titled The Oxford Handbook of Land Economics, was edited by Duke, professor in UD’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC), and Junjie Wu, the Emery N. Castle Endowed Chair in Resource and Rural Economics at Oregon State University, and joins 44 other economics handbooks currently available as part of the Oxford Handbooks in Economics series. 

Duke said that putting the book together was a five-year process, which started with a successful refereed editorial proposal and the recruitment of leading thinkers in the field to write the chapters.

“Although the book is aimed at documenting state-of-the-art knowledge and research methods for academic economists and doctoral students, policy makers and others with basic economic training will find the results useful for improving land use policy and understanding how economists think about land use problems,” said Duke.

The book includes chapters featuring the latest research in different application areas, with many – such as ecosystem services and climate change – concerning the environment.

Land economics

As for what land economics entails, Duke explained that it is how humans make decisions about using natural resources and how society can adjust rules to improve the performance of land markets.

“For instance, should a parcel be put to agricultural use, or should it be put to industrial use or commercial use? The problem with land markets, and land use decisions in general, is that they often have implications that affect people who are not the landowner,” Duke said. “When I make a decision about how to maintain my house and manage my yard, it affects my neighbors — both positively and negatively. There are a lot of interdependencies associated with land use.”

Duke pointed out that wars are fought over land and that people’s wellbeing is tied to the land, noting the security that comes from land ownership.

“To the owner, land is a special type of commodity and yet the way you use your land affects other people and vice versa,” said Duke. “Every society, over centuries, has developed institutions, or rules, to manage land use decisions. In the U.S., you can’t do whatever you want with your land, even if you’re the owner. You can’t convert a farm — in many jurisdictions — into a housing development without some form of governmental permission. There is a range of processes that society has decided upon for what ends land will be put to. Obviously, these processes can be very controversial, and this handbook provides economists’ perspectives.”

Duke explained that economists study the performance of these institutions and make recommendations on new institutions, something with which the book deals.

“In these chapters, the authors talk about how ecosystem services are produced from land and what kinds of policies are available to direct or incentivize land owners to enhance those services,” he said. “For instance, how can society protect prime farmland from urban encroachment? How can society best adjust land management behavior to protect water quality? This is a small sample of topics addressed by the handbook.”

Property rights and law also affect land use economics. “Several chapters address when land use regulation goes too far,” said Duke. “Our society vigorously debates the conditions under which an environmental regulation unduly restricts landowner options, and when confiscating urban business is permissible using eminent domain. Economists contribute insight by assessing the efficiency of those laws that determine what is private property.”

Top authors

The Oxford Handbook of Land Economics authors come from all over the world, representing institutions such as Ohio State University, Oregon State University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of California, Berkeley. International contributions come from researchers in Nigeria, South Korea and Italy.

Kent Messer, the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, was one of the contributors.

“The book features a lot of the best people in the field. It is a great group of contributors,” said Duke.

As for how he and his co-editor came to work on the book, Duke explained that Wu is “a leading thinker on land economics from Oregon State University who I’ve known for a while and this seemed like a great opportunity to collaborate, not just because I think he’s an excellent scholar, but because he covers a lot of the urban economic models that I don’t know as much about.”

Oxford Handbook

Oxford Handbooks offer authoritative and up-to-date surveys of original research, providing scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives on a wide range of subjects in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

The first Oxford Handbook in Economics was published in 2009. For more information on the series, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD professor touts benefits of adding meadows to landscapes

UD's Sue Barton touts the benefits of meadows over lawnsInstead of simple traditional lawns, the University of Delaware’s Sue Barton is asking local homeowners to consider meadows to increase ecosystem services and add aesthetic beauty to landscapes. 

Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that homeowners with larger yards — one or more acres — should especially consider growing meadows instead of lawns. 

The benefits of having a meadow include more plant and wildlife diversity, better water penetration and deeper root systems to filter water, Barton said. Meadows also increase pollinators and are beautiful if properly maintained.

Some people may hear about installing a meadow and assume that it means they can just stop cutting their grass, letting it grow long and wild, but Barton said that’s not the case.

“The real key is not to just stop mowing your grass but to mow edges, mow a path, have a curvy line at the edge, something that makes the meadow look very purposeful,” said Barton.

Meadow versus lawn

A lawn is defined as something that is routinely cut and maintained at a height somewhere between two and five inches. It is most desirable when it consists of a cool season turf grass species, but the definition of a lawn doesn’t mean that it has to be grass.

“Usually, it’s primarily grass,” Barton said. “My lawn is pretty much all clover and weeds, but it’s still a lawn because it’s mowed regularly and kept short.”

A meadow, on the other hand, includes taller, warm season grasses. Examples of those native to this region include Indiangrass, switchgrass, prairie dropseed and little bluestem.

Meadows can also have blooming perennials, such as butterfly weed and black-eyed Susans.

But what plants grow in meadows will depend on soil types and the amount of available moisture.

Installing a meadow

In order to install a meadow, Barton said that there are two main strategies — stop cutting a lawn, while still maintaining a perimeter, and allow cool season grasses and plants such as Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod to come into the meadow, or start from scratch and seed a meadow.

In order to do this second method, Barton explained how a meadow was installed on a property in the Applecross neighborhood in Greenville.

“We seeded that meadow, so we had to kill the existing vegetation. Then the strategy was to mix desirable warm season grass and a few perennial forb seeds with sawdust and spread that layer of seed and sawdust,” said Barton. “The sawdust does two things — it prevents light from hitting the soil to avoid crabgrass and foxtail, which are often problem weeds in a new meadow, and it also provides a moist germination medium for the desirable seed. It’s a good way to get a meadow started.”

Meadow alternatives

For those homeowners with smaller yards or yards with big, mature trees such as can be found in North Wilmington, sometimes, a meadow just isn’t practical or even possible.

Robert Finocchiaro, president of Finocchiaro Landscape Co., said that for those who have smaller yards or yards where grass won’t grow, it is best to consider all options that increase biodiversity.

“Plant bushes and groundcovers that will complement the look. There are a lot of landscapes up in North Wilmington where the trees have matured so much that you can’t grow grass,” said Finocchiaro. “The big thing is that they use mulch. What Sue is trying to say is maybe we can use leaves for mulch and do perimeter mulching, where you mulch right along the flowerbed. Maybe we can plant some understory bushes that will attract certain insects, which of course attract birds, and then have this little habitat in your front yard that looks very nice instead of just having mulch.”

Finocchiaro also said that he realizes that in New Castle County, “somebody’s meadow might be somebody else’s un-cut yard,” but he wants people with the space to accommodate the option to keep an open mind.

“If you have an isolated area in the back yard and it’s not a huge yard and you want to have the grass grow a little bit, I don’t see any problem with it. It’s kind of like a little transition zone,” said Finocchiaro. “What Sue’s trying to tell people and what I am trying to tell people is you don’t need two acres of maintained lawn any more. There are alternatives and what’s nice is this creates a little bit of a habitat that wouldn’t exist if you cut the grass every week.”

Changing perception

Barton pointed out that one way in which people can change their perception of meadows is to visit Longwood Gardens and tour its newly installed meadow garden that spans 86 acres and contains three miles of walking trails.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Sue Barton

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Researchers find first evidence of fat-regulating hormone in avian species

Research team discovers first sign of Leptin in avian speciesA team of researchers that includes Larry A. Cogburn, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at the University of Delaware, recently found leptin in the rock dove, or pigeon.

The team includes scientists from the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel led by professors Miriam Friedman-Einat and Eyal Seroussi and four Israeli colleagues: Sara Yosefi, Gideon Hen, Dima Shinder, and Andrey Shirak.

The work is documented in a paper, “Discovery and Characterization of the First Genuine Avian Leptin Gene in the Rock Dove (Columba livia),” which was recently published in the September issue of Endocrinology.

Leptin and its receptor play critical roles in the control of food intake and energy expenditure, thereby affecting body weight, abdominal fatness, thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and lipid metabolism.

Since leptin was discovered 20 years ago, more than 115,000 papers have been published on this protein in humans, and another 5,000 have appeared on leptin in mice.

Leptin’s popularity is not surprising, as the hormone is the principal marker for the development of morbid obesity in humans.

Despite the attention focused on leptin in mammals over the past two decades, many questions remain unanswered about its role and mechanism, especially in non-mammalian species, and documentation of its presence in birds has proved particularly elusive.

“We’ve finally solved a 20-year mystery with the discovery and functional characterization of the first leptin gene in any bird,” Cogburn says. “Our hope is that further study of leptin in birds could identify novel mechanisms controlling appetite and energy balance and one day help solve the problem of obesity in humans.”

For more information on the study, check out the article by Diane Kukich on UDaily.

UD students honored by International Association for Food Protection

Patrick Spanninger and Qing Wang were among 16 students from around the world who received travel awards from the International Association for Food ProtectionUniversity of Delaware doctoral students Patrick Spanninger and Qing Wang were among 16 students from around the world who received travel awards from the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) to attend the organization’s annual meeting held Aug. 3-6 in Indianapolis. 

The conference brought together more than 2,800 of the top industry, academic and government food safety professionals from six continents.

Spanninger and Wang, both in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that one of the most beneficial aspects of the conference was the networking, as both were paired with mentors from the food industry.

The mentors shared valuable work experiences with the students, who had an opportunity to follow their mentors and learn about their careers in the industry.

Spanninger’s mentor was Ed Wellmeyer, vice president of quality assurance and food safety at Ventura Foods, a leading manufacturer of products such as custom and branded dressings, sauces, mayonnaise varieties and margarines.

“He was an awesome guy,” Spanninger said. “He introduced me to everybody and took me to all of his meetings, and really took me under his wing. I wouldn’t have gotten half the business cards if I hadn’t been with him.”

Wang’s mentor was Michele Gorman, senior manager of food safety and microbiology for the yogurt company Chobani.

“My mentor had lots of working experience in food microbiology and she shared with me her work experience and also introduced her friends to me, so I felt like it was really good to have a mentor there,” said Wang. “I felt like it gave me a better understanding of the industry to help better my future career.”

Conference activities

In addition to providing mentors, the conference also featured talks, presentations and roundtable discussions.

“You can learn a lot during the talks and I went to several that were related to my studies. I also went to several that were just interesting, so it was pretty cool,” said Wang.

Both students presented their research at the conference. Spanninger’s dealt with his laboratory study on evaluating survival of pathogenic bacteria within different types of wildlife manure to assess the possible transmission of E. coli and Salmonella.

Spanninger said provisions of the new Food Safety Modernization Act includes information on reducing risk from animal intrusion and learning more about how pathogens survive in wildlife feces is an important aspect of this.

Wang’s study focused on the inactivation of foodborne viruses in alfalfa seeds by aqueous ozone. This was done by measuring the efficacy of aqueous ozone to disinfect alfalfa seeds contaminated with norovirus and norovirus surrogates.

Wang focused on alfalfa sprouts because they have been associated with a number of foodborne outbreaks where seed contamination was identified as the source.

Kali Kniel, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences who accompanied the students to the conference along with numerous fellow faculty members from the department, said that it is an exciting time for students like Spanninger and Wang to be studying food safety issues pertinent to pre-harvest food safety.

“We are at the intersection of changes that were 70 years in the making. The FDA proposed produce rules will impact growers across the country and in order for the FDA to have the best science on which to base these rules, young developing scientists like Pat and Qing are involved in identifying that science,” said Kniel. “Both students presented work that is important to understanding the variable risks that affect fresh produce growing in fields and also alfalfa sprouts, which have a long history of transmission of foodborne illness.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Patrick Spanninger

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

New Castle County 4-H to hold 5K walk and run, Fitness Fun Day

New Castle County 4-H Quest for the Clover to be held Saturday, Sept. 27New Castle County 4-H and the 4-H Food Smart Families program will hold the third annual Quest for the Clover 5K walk and run and a 4-H Fitness Fun Day on Saturday, Sept. 27, in Wilmington. 

The race check-in is at 9 a.m. and the race starts at 10 a.m.

Through the involvement of the 4-H Food Smart Families program, this year will also feature a 4-H Fitness Fun Day after the race from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Lunch will be served and each family will receive a bag of groceries. There will also be stations set up to allow participants to play different games, taste test different products and learn about being healthy and fit.

The race will be held at Dead President’s Restaurant, 618 N. Union St., in Wilmington.

Participants will receive T-shirts and be entered into a raffle where they will have the opportunity to win gift cards, 4-H prizes and the grand prize of an iPod Touch.

All proceeds will benefit the New Castle County 4-H program on both the county and club level.

4-H is a youth development organization serving children ages 5-19 that covers hundreds of project areas and strives to reach youth in three national mission mandates: healthy living, citizenship and science.

Participants are encouraged to pre-register for the race. Registration ends Sept. 24 and the cost is $10 for youth, students and children and $15 for adults.

Registration is available online at Races 2 Run.

For more information, contact Mallory Vogl.

For 4-H volunteer opportunities, contact the 4-H office at 302-831-8965.

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

UDairy Creamery highlighted on upcoming Food Network show

UDairy Creamery to be featured on upcoming Food Network showThe University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery will be featured on an upcoming episode of the Food Network’s Eating America with Anthony Anderson.

The episode will air on the Food Network on Monday, Sept. 15 at 10:30 p.m., with subsequent airings on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 1:30 a.m.; Friday, Sept. 19 at 11 p.m.; and Saturday, Sept. 20, at 3:30 p.m. 

The episode chronicles the Rockwood Ice Cream Festival that happened on June 28-29 at New Castle County’s Rockwood Park, and specifically the “Best Sundae on Sunday” competition that took place at the festival.

The UDairy Creamery was one of the 10 creameries entered in the competition. Its entry, Rockwood Carnival Cardiac Craze, was a funnel cake topped with one scoop of nanner nutter, junk in the tree trunk and caramel corn, then topped with salted caramel, homemade caramel bacon popcorn, candy apple slices and Oreo whipped cream, with a fried Oreo on top that was sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Of the filming and the competition, Melinda Litvinas, UDairy Creamery manager, said that she and Jennifer Rodammer, creamery supervisor, had “such a great experience sharing the UDairy Creamery story on camera. Competing with such a crazy concoction our staff created made us so proud. It’s some well-deserved national attention for those that have been involved in the creamery, past and present.”

The festival featured ice cream served by dairies and ice cream shops, 25 restaurant and snack vendors, a beer garden and at least 30 local businesses and 15 non-profit organizations.

For more information on the show, visit the website.

Photo by Danielle Quigley

UD researchers look at small RNA pathways in maize tassels

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."Researchers at the University of Delaware and other institutions across the country have been awarded a four-year, $6.5 million National Science Foundation grant to analyze developmental events in maize anthers and tassels, the male reproductive organs that produce pollen.

The results of the research could have long-term implications for the hybrid seed industry, characterizing novel biological pathways for the creation of genetically male-sterile plants, particularly in the cereal crops.

Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences, is the principal investigator for the project. He leads a research laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) and now has a small corn crop grown on UD’s Newark Farm.

The co-principal investigators leading parts of the project include Virginia Walbot, professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford University, and Gregory Abram, a researcher in visualization at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Walbot brings to the project the expertise of her laboratory in maize and particularly anther developmental genetics, while Abram will develop tools for visualization of anther development at a cellular scale.

Randy Wisser, UD assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, helps the group with the growing, multiplying and harvesting of the corn grown on the campus farm.

Meyers stressed that while the long-term implications of the project could be very important for the seed industry, the researchers are primarily interested in two aspects of basic biology: first, contributing new information about ribonucleic acid (RNA) pathways important for pollen and anther development, and second, developing a better and deeper understanding of anther development. Addressing these objectives will require an integration of genetic, molecular, developmental, and computational techniques.

“Our study is really basic research — we’re trying to understand development and a couple of novel small RNA pathways, but we think that the impact of the project ultimately will be important for plant production,” said Meyers.

Hybrid seed

For hybrid seeds, producers use pollen from the paternal plant to cross-fertilize a genetically distinct maternal plant. While doing this, it is essential that they prevent the maternal plant from pollinating itself.

By understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying pollen development, producers can devise techniques to regulate male fertility or sterility and “it offers an opportunity to create genetically male sterile plants, which would really facilitate the production of hybrid seed,” Meyers said.

Meyers explained that up until recently, the production of hybrid seed involved manual removal of the maize tassels to eliminate pollen from the plants with ears. This required people going through fields and breaking off tassels from the plants with ears to be pollinated, thus forcing pollination of those plants with pollen from separate rows of corn with their tassels retained.

“You might have two parents: A and B, and A is the pollen donor, so they’re left untouched. B is the one that’s producing the seed and those are all detasseled. The only way you can get seed on plant B is with the pollen from plant A; that generates the hybrid seed which is sold to farmers. The seed produces plants with substantially better yields because of the effect known as ‘hybrid vigor’. These A/B progeny plants have greatly superior yields than either of the A or B parental lines,” said Meyers.

The trend in the seed industry is to use genetic control of pollen development rather than manual detasseling, because it’s more precise, cost-effective and safer.

Prior work

The project builds on prior research that was published over the last five years by several other groups that showed there are two unusual classes of small RNAs in the flower of grasses. Because that work focused on rice, in which the male and female are all in one flower, the work couldn’t separate male versus female roles for these small RNAs.

“In maize, the tassel – or male inflorescence – is separate from the ear – the female inflorescence. This makes it really easy to separately analyze the development and composition of male and female flowers in maize, particularly relative to many other grasses,” said Meyers.

It turned out there is a huge abundance of small RNAs in the two classes that were described in a 2009 paper, and Meyers said that his group thought that was interesting because in other plants, such as the model plant Arabidopsis, those small RNAs hadn’t been observed.

“Lots of work has been done on small RNAs in Arabidopsis and its anthers, but these particular types of small RNAs had never been described. What we learned was that they’re not found in that branch of large group of flowering plants known as the ‘dicots’ but they seem to be highly enriched in the grasses, such as maize or corn, rice, wheat, and a few other grasses that we’ve looked at,” said Meyers.

One claim that the researchers have made is that the maize anther small RNAs are analogous to small RNA classes that have been identified in mammals. The small RNA classes in maize and mammals don’t have a common origin and evolved completely independently.

“However, there are a lot of similarities between the classes which are found in male reproductive tissues in mammals and the male reproductive tissues in the grasses,” said Meyers. “We’ve been very excited about that because it could offer an opportunity to better understand what these small RNAs do.”

Meyers said the biggest mystery the group faces is that they are not exactly sure what the small RNAs do at all — they just know that they are extremely abundant. The aim of the project, then, is to better understand what the small RNAs are doing, how they evolved and how they fit into the biology of the anther.

“Beyond the basic research insights we are making, anther biology is really important because it’s a component of the hybrid seed industry, which is big business,” said Meyers.

Virtual anther

Another component of the project involves the group creating a “virtual anther.”

Meyers said the anther is a relatively simple structure relative to other structures in the plant, like the leaf, root, or the entire flower, and the anther has a fairly well-defined differentiation pattern.

“At the end of cellular differentiation, the anther has five cell layers. The sole purpose of the anther is to produce the pollen, and so the outer cell layers break down once the pollen starts to mature and then ultimately, it splits open and the pollen is released,” said Meyers.

Because Walbot has a laboratory that has precisely defined the steps in the pattern of anther development, the group is aiming to create a virtual or computational “wire frame” model of how the anther develops.

The group is also using male-sterile mutants with developmental defects in the production of pollen. These mutants vary in the stages at which development is blocked, and comparisons with normal, fertile anthers will help the groups to understand the dynamics of the small RNAs and other genes of interest.

“From these materials, we’re going to be generating lots of data – small RNAs, gene expression data, some protein data — and we’d like to be able to map these data sets onto the virtual anther. This will enable users, whether it’s in our collaborative group or the public from anywhere in the world, to look up the information that we’re generating and use it to develop and ultimately test hypotheses,” said Meyers.

The project will also involve Bing Yang, an associate professor at Iowa State University, whose laboratory is skilled in making precise modifications to genomes using cutting-edge techniques. “The plant lines produced by the Yang lab will allow the project to test some of the hypotheses that emerge from our datasets,” said Meyers.

The members of the Meyers’ lab group include post-doctoral researchers Sandra Mathioni, Kun Huang and Chong Teng, and a team of students from the bioinformatics and computational biology program, including Atul Kakrana, Reza Hammond, Parth Patel and Saleh Tamim.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD summer camp aims to educate youth about the fun side of science

4-H hosted a Marvelous Microbes camp this summer to teach how science can be funAnyone can be a scientist, science can be lots of fun and — to the surprise and delight of most of the children who participated in the 2014 University of Delaware Marvelous Microbes Camp — science can be easy. 

Those were the key messages that Emily Sklar, a master’s degree student in UD’s College of Education and Human Development, hoped to instill in the youngsters who participated in the camp, which was run in cooperation with 4-H through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Aimed at children ages 5-13, Marvelous Microbes took place in all three counties, with the New Castle County camp taking place the week of July 14 at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School and the southern Delaware camps taking place concurrently the week of July 21 at Mifflin Meadows in Kent County and the Hickory Hill Community Center in Sussex County.

The camp served many at-risk children, who Sklar said can sometimes find themselves falling behind during the school year.

“They really respond well to having us come in and dedicate our time to them,” said Sklar. “A lot of these kids are told they’re bad kids. They’re the ones acting up, they’re the ones not doing homework, they’re the ones failing tests, and having us take the time to come in and create something fun and educational for them has a huge impact.”

Sklar noted that doing something as simple as offering up words of encouragement worked wonders for the students.

“If we come over and say, ‘Wow, you’re a really good scientist’ or ‘You’re doing a great job on that experiment,’ and you see this light bulb turn on with them thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I am good at this. Maybe I’m not a bad kid, maybe science is something for me.’”

Sklar served as the lead teacher for the camp and created the camp curriculum after being selected by Janine Sherrier, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Learning process

Sklar said the campers do everything ranging from making bread — to show how bread with yeast rises and bread without yeast doesn’t — to completing tasks as difficult as a Gram stain, a method of differentiating bacterial species, which she said is an Advanced Placement level high school experiment.

With activities like bread making, Sklar and the teachers also got to teach the campers life skills. “They got to learn how to measure and also, in talking about microbes, they learned the importance of washing their hands and general kitchen safety. We’re teaching them a lot of other things, too, it’s not just science,” said Sklar.

One of the main goals of the camp was to show that anybody, regardless of age, race or gender, has the ability to be a scientist.

On their first day of camp, the students were asked to draw a picture of a scientist. Sklar said, “About 75 percent of them drew a white male, with crazy hair. Then, on the last day, we had them draw a picture of a scientist again and a lot of them drew themselves, which was fun. It was cool to see that progress.”

Another teaching tool the camp incorporated this year was teaming with the ArtsBridge Program to help the students think outside the box when it comes to learning science.

Sklar said the ArtsBridge teachers instructed the campers in dance movement, music vocabulary, how to read music, and tone and pitch in the context of a content area, in this case science.

DBI imaging

One of the highlights of the camp was when a group of campers traveled to UD’s Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) where they got to see the room known as “The Cave,” a visualization studio with a giant screen that displays 3D images.

The campers got to see images of the microbes that were discussed in camp sessions, and also of lungs as they took a virtual trip down the esophagus and through the bronchial tubes.

Sklar said many physicians and researchers use The Cave for access to leading edge technology that can help them better understand what is going on in the human body. “It’s really cool and the kids really enjoyed that,” she said.

And of course, using the tools is always fun. “They also got to use some of DBI’s high-powered microscopes and look at different images and touch some incredible machines,” said Sklar.

As for her personal favorite part of the camp, Sklar said that it’s a natural blending of two of her favorite things: teaching and science.

“One of the reasons I went into teaching science is my love for biology and my love for sharing knowledge with others, and I love seeing other people get excited about science, especially kids. Teaching them that it’s not all just sitting in a lab mixing chemicals and it’s fun, it can be easy — it can also be really, really hard — but it can be easy.

“And I’ll never forget one of the students looked at me and said, ‘Science in school is boring, but you guys make it so easy and fun.’”

Funding

Support for the camp was provided through National Science Foundation grant NSF-1127155, which was awarded to Sherrier. It is related to a larger NSF-funded science project on plant genomes and microbes.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

New book promotes plant functionality as priority in landscapes

New book by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke promotes the Living LandscapeRather than being designed simply for aesthetic beauty, home gardens need to be livable, layered, and functional in order to support viable food webs, according to the new book The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by the University of Delaware’s Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke, a UD graduate and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Distinguished Alumnus and landscape consultant who spent years as curator of plants at Longwood Gardens.

The book is published by Timber Press and while it is not a simple step-by-step instruction manual, it does lead readers through the process of designing and building a beautiful, enjoyable, layered garden that also supports wildlife.

“This is not a ‘how to’ book, but it is chock full of example pictures. Rick spends a lot of time discussing how he transformed his property into a living landscape, so there are techniques to be learned,” said Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. “We talk about the things you need to accomplish to bring life to your yard. Not landscape designs because those are site-specific personal choices. Instead, we talk about how and why to create a layered landscape, and how to create the vertical plant layers that most people have not thought about in the past but are so important to breeding birds.”

Darke said the book is a blending of the duo’s different fields of expertise, as Tallamy provides the perspectives of an entomologist, animal ecologist and ornithologist and Darke adds the viewpoints of a botanist, plant ecologist and landscape designer.

“This book takes so much of the design work that I’ve done, whether it’s woodland gardens or grasses and meadows or wet areas, and puts it together with Doug’s vast ecological knowledge. He comes from the insect and animal world, and so by putting the two of us together, we got a much more inclusive understanding and we felt that we were in a position to describe an inclusive call to action,” said Darke.

The book is also somewhat of a companion piece to Tallamy’s earlier work, Bringing Nature Home.

Darke said they wanted readers to build off what they had learned in the previous book. “We wanted something that would say, ‘OK, if you took to heart the message of Bringing Nature Home, here’s how you can do something about it.’”

In addition to writing the book with people who are already interested in creating a living landscape in mind, Tallamy said he was also interested in attracting first-time readers to the idea of the living landscape.

“From that perspective, I think it will be much more of a guide than Bringing Nature Home. Not only is it more of a guide to approaches you could take to accomplish this, there is also a good deal of justification in there, explaining why we need to do this,” said Tallamy. “Is there enough in this book to convince readers that this is worth doing? I think there is, although that was certainly not the expressed intent of the book. But if it accomplishes both those goals, I’ll be very happy.”

The book is very photo driven, although textually it is the same length as Bringing Nature Home, and has almost the feel of a coffee table book.

Assembling the photos for the book was no easy feat, as Darke said they considered over 150,000 potential photographs before selecting the final 500 found in the 400-page volume.

“Since this is a heavily illustrated book, we knew in order to be persuasive and to be authentic, we needed a huge suite of authentic images that depicted what we were promoting,” said Darke. “Those images were really hard to get because if you put an image in the book and say, ‘We’re holding this up as the model,’ that image needs to be able to be picked apart in any number of ways, from the plants to the architecture to anything that is shown. To get photographs like that, that don’t have some red herring or non sequitur, is quite challenging.”

The authors were also interested in showing that creating a living landscape usually requires a wide variety of plants including native and well-behaved non-native species.

“If you really want to create a living landscape, your landscape has to do certain things. It needs to support a viable food web. Not all plants are equal in their ability to do that and not all native plants are equal in their ability to do that, so focusing on the plants that are really good at that is a good start,” said Tallamy. “You want to provide resources for pollinators — both nesting sites and forage. That’s separate from the food web issue. So your landscape should be doing all of those. It should be performing ecosystem services, it should be sequestering carbon, and it should be protecting our watershed.”

Darke echoed these thoughts, saying, “The important thing, I think for both of us, and especially for me, is functionality. I believe deeply in the relationships that Doug is talking about. I am less concerned about where plants come from and more concerned about how they function in the landscape.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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