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.’”


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.

Ducks Unlimited RSO, Philadelphia Flower Show plants shore up UD wetland

Ducks Unlimited student chapter helps shore up UD's wetlandWhen Mike Popovich needed help to restore wetland habitat located near the apiary in the center of the University of Delaware’s Newark farm, he found it in the form of the Ducks Unlimited registered student organization and also through trees and shrubs donated from the UD exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The plants from the flower show were donated by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who serves as one of the professors for the design process practicum class that created the flower show exhibit. 

Bruck said that one of the aims of the Philadelphia Flower show project is to make the entire exhibit more sustainable. “One way to do that is to make sure the plants from the exhibit go to a good home,” said Bruck. “We focused our exhibit this year on native riparian buffer plants. These plants were perfect for the wetland restoration project.”

Bruck added that the Design and Articulture Club sold many of the perennials to the public during the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ annual Ag Day celebration.

The plants the group donated included the woody plants such as Amelanchier (shadblow), Quercus alba(white oak), Cercis canadensis (redbud), Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar), Salix nigra (black willow) and Alnus serrulata (hazel alder).

Chris Williams, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and adviser for the Ducks Unlimited student chapter, said that it was great to have the DU students learn about restoration because 85 cents of every dollar raised by the organization goes directly to wetland conservation.

“These students are getting opportunities to learn about wetlands and have a hands-on education and service experience, so this fit in perfectly with that goal,” Williams said.

Working on the wetland

An estimated 25 students joined Williams, Popovich, who is a research associate in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Scott Hopkins, the UD farm superintendent, and spent the afternoon trying to accomplish two main goals — remove invasive species from the wetland while at the same time lowering the water level.

Cattails are one of the major invasive species in the wetland and Williams said the group spent the better part of the afternoon clearing out the plants.

“The place was just filled with cattails and so half of us were in there with waders, slowly pulling out all these cattails,” Williams said. “I haven’t gone down in the past couple of weeks but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them had grown back since we pulled them, but it seemed to have held nicely.”

Concurrently to the cattail removal, the other half of the group planted trees and shrubs one would expect to find in that type of environment in northern Delaware.

“We planted a lot and everything was native,” said Popovich. “Many of the plantings were in specific areas and were bank stabilization type plants — dogwoods and viburnums — and it was all using live stakes, which makes it easier as we just punch them into the ground.”

For the most part, the invasive species are now in check thanks in part to the planting of reed canary grass, which Popovich said is a hardy competitor in the landscape.

“The wetland was an old pasture and in a pasture, you’re managing weeds all the time,” Popovich said. “When you turn it into a wetland, you’re not going to be able to spray all the time so those weeds are going to love it, and reed canary grass is one of the few things that will out-compete that stuff.”

Dropping water level 

In addition to the invasive species removal, the other goal was to lower the wetland’s water level.

Popovich said that typically with wetlands, the water level drops in the spring and boards are pulled on a weir — a barrier designed to alter flow — to allow water to run through.

With the wetland on the farm, however, it’s a different story. “Our wetland is more of a nutrient and sediment control site than anything else. We need it to control any runoff from our fields. You get runoff into the wetland and you slow it down so it’s not going into the White Clay. Our goal is to make the water at the end of the system clear, so to speak,” said Popovich.

With the weather Newark experienced this spring, Popovich said it was a challenge to reduce the water level, which hindered his ability to plant millet, a small-seeded grass that would have attracted ducks to the wetland in the fall – a time when it is ideal to have food for the birds as they head south for the winter.

“Normally after Memorial Day it just dries right out and that would’ve been perfect,” Popovich said. “We would’ve been able to drop levels down, plant the millet and then put the weirs back in and flood it in the fall, and there would be all that food right there for the ducks. But this spring, we had about seven inches of rain one weekend. If I had had those boards down, it would’ve been a muddy mess, just running right down, so I elected to leave it up to control the water.”

Williams said that typically state and federal wetland impoundments will promote winter waterfowl food by dropping water levels down in summer, planting food of different types, letting it come to seed and then re-flooding the area.

This is done “so when ducks migrate in the fall, they will have both water resources and extra seed food supplies in addition to the baseline availability of invertebrates and seeds,” Williams said. “It’s kind of a ‘best of both worlds.’ Not a lot of ducks breed in Delaware during the summer months, so reducing these wetlands temporarily will not adversely hurt the populations. But it can be a huge gain in the winter when the Mid-Atlantic hosts large numbers of the East Coast’s waterfowl.”

Popovich said that now in the fifth year of planting, he sees a lot of progress with regards to the wetland as he has experienced “better than a 60-70 percent success rate so far, and that’s just using all native plants.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Emergency Poultry Disease Response workshop considers biosecurity, rapid response

Participants from 15 countries attended UD's Emergency Poultry Disease Response training programThe University of Delaware welcomed 22 poultry professionals from around the world as it hosted its sixth annual Emergency Poultry Disease Response (EPDR) certificate program July 7-11.

The workshop was held on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus and was aimed at teaching both local and international participants about preparedness planning, biosecurity and assessment, and rapid response techniques and technology with regard to avian disease outbreaks.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in conjunction with UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies, this year’s workshop included participants from all over the globe.

The program was lead by Eric Benson, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS); Robert Alphin, instructor in ANFS and manager of the University’s Allen Laboratory; George Irvine, assistant director of organizational learning solutions in Professional and Continuing Studies at UD, and Dan Hougentogler, research associate in ANFS.

Fifteen countries were represented, including Mongolia, Bhutan, South Africa, Mexico, Malaysia, Ghana, Germany, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Georgia, Kenya, Belize, Trinidad and Macedonia.

Alphin explained, “The program has been taught every year since 2009, but this is the first year the program was expanded to five days, including a day-long tour of the Delmarva Broiler Industry hosted by Mountaire Farms Inc. in Millsboro, Delaware.”

Alphin added that two years before the inaugural program in 2009, they ran two similar programs for Romania and Bulgaria.

Alphin singled out Irvine, saying that he “has been a key member of our team from the beginning.”

Benson said the course is adjusted every year based on changes in avian disease understanding. “This program is unusual in that it was developed using grant funding, but has moved to become a self-supporting program.”

During the workshop, participants received instruction from UD faculty members on the core emergency animal disease components – surveillance, quarantine, depopulation or culling and carcass disposal, along with cleaning and disinfection.

“As in previous years, one of the keys to this year’s success was a combination of UD faculty and professionals, adjunct faculty and professionals from other universities, and poultry industry and government experts,” said Alphin. “This year’s participants were enthusiastic and very willing to participate in the group discussions. The dynamics of the group were very positive and made for very stimulating and productive discussions, sharing their own knowledge and experiences.”

Student interns

Benson and Alphin noted that the participants, both this year and in years past, will be able to continue to interact with one another thanks to a Facebook group and through Sakai, both of which were set up and run by student interns.

The inclusion of student interns was new to the workshop this year and the two interns were Gabrielle Dressel and Jaclyn Weiher, both CANR seniors.

Of the interns, Benson said, “One thing we tried to do differently was to include our undergraduate students within the program while giving them an opportunity to meet and interact with the participants.”

Dressel worked specifically for the EDPR program and Benson said she spent her summer “learning how to implement a training program, about assessment, and about working with participants.”

Dressel said she became an intern with the program after taking a class with Benson in the fall. Dressel said she enjoyed the class and that the internship was “available to students who had taken the class because the topics that were covered in this were covered in our class. That gave me at least a base to have seen everything that we were doing so that it wouldn’t be totally new.”

Dressel spent her time during the workshop running Sakai, an on-line educational platform, and also helped with many of the demonstrations. “We did a lot of hands-on demonstrations of different things. Some things were just novelty demonstrations and others were practices that can be used everywhere and are easy to implement,” said Dressel.

As for her favorite part of the workshop, Dressel said that it was great to be able to meet and interact with participants.

“I loved working with all of the participants. We went to Georgetown and to the Mountaire plants, and also to a hatchery, a broiler house and a processing plant, so we were on a bus all day and able to talk to the participants,” said Dressel. “Then we went to the beach afterwards. It was just really cool to meet them and to get to know them better. It was definitely not something that you get to do every day.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Vargas hosts Borlaug Fellow to study carbon cycle science, policy in Mexico

Karla Toledo is hosted at UD as a Borlaug Fellow with Rodrigo VargasKarla Toledo of the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in Mexico arrived at the University of Delaware to conduct research with Rodrigo Vargas, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), to review the state-of-the-art carbon cycle science and policy in Mexico. 

Toledo came to UD thanks to the Norman E. Borlaug International Agriculture Science and Technology Fellowship Program funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program promotes food security and economic growth by providing training and collaborative research opportunities to Borlaug Fellows from developing and middle-income countries.

Toledo will spend 10 weeks at UD before returning to Mexico, with Vargas in turn traveling to Mexico sometime in the near future to continue the collaboration. “The idea is that the fellow will have developed a skill applied to the place where he or she works and that this will strengthen the international collaborations of the University,” said Vargas.

With global challenges requiring new international partnerships and solutions, UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) is always looking for ways to collaborate with researchers in developing countries.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger spoke on the importance of international collaborations, saying, “Travel is perhaps the best educator of all. I am glad to see that Dr. Vargas is hosting a Borlaug Fellow and thus providing her with an opportunity to grow and learn in her scientific pursuits here at UD. In turn, the visiting scientists that we host help us to think more broadly about the science we conduct and always open new avenues of collaboration.”

Toledo said her main goal while at UD is to develop a review paper that will be published in a peer reviewed journal that will link science and policy related to carbon cycle science in Mexico. She wants to take an interdisciplinary approach blending science and policy about an important topic with natural, economical and political implications.

“I’m more into public policy, but this research topic is a perfect link between science and public policy,” said Toledo. “I don’t think there are many places where multidisciplinary work happens so this is a good project on which to say this is what we have in science and this is what we have in politics — let’s mix them and do something great about it.”

Specifically, her study will look at the state-of-the-art carbon cycle science in Mexico and the challenges to achieve current goals. “I’m trying to review all of the agencies, institutions, the politics, the science, the monitoring systems — everything surrounding carbon cycle science — in order to address sustainability, conservation and the effects of global environmental change,” Toledo said.

“One of the challenges is that it’s complicated to navigate the political organization in Mexico related to carbon cycle science because there are many entities that are involved at different federal agencies and different commissions within those agencies,” Vargas said. “All of them will work with topics related to carbon cycle science but from someone outside of Mexico, it is difficult to identify a clear organization as to which agency does what. One of the things that we are interested in is to improve collaborations and carbon cycle science at the North American scale.”

Vargas said that 12 federal agencies and departments coordinate and support the activities of the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program. The Carbon Cycle Interagency Working Group coordinates and supports research of carbon cycle science and defines program goals. Furthermore, CarboNA is a joint government-level initiative between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico whose goal is to enhance interactions across North America on topics related to carbon cycle science.

Toledo’s objectives at UD are to learn new techniques to measure greenhouse gases in terrestrial ecosystems, and to review the state-of-the art of carbon cycle science in Mexico. Toledo is acquiring knowledge on new technologies and concepts, but she is also working on a science-policy roadmap by compiling a list of agencies, commissions and organizations working on topics related to carbon cycle science in Mexico.

Toledo is also hoping to highlight success stories in Mexico, specifically in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, where she conducts research.

“The idea is not to highlight all the potential stories within Mexico but just to have an overarching view of carbon cycle science at the national scale, and highlight a success story in the southeast of Mexico, specifically in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor,” Vargas said. “By highlighting current efforts, success stories and a roadmap of science and policy we are working towards improving visibility of carbon cycle science in Mexico, and consequently open new opportunities for international collaborations across North America.”

Vargas said that another goal of the project is to establish a long-term collaboration with Mexico’s National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), where Toledo works. Furthermore, these efforts add to an ongoing project supported by aNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant to Vargas.


Another important goal of Toledo’s visit to UD is networking, as she gets to interact with UD researchers and professors who share similar areas of interest.

An example of this networking is how Toledo and Janine Sherrier, professor of plant and soil sciences, were simply riding in a car together when the subject of bats was brought up.

“We started to talk about bats and I gave her some information about something completely different to what I’m doing here with the fellowship — I used to work with bats; I’m a rare mixture of things,” Toledo said.

Toledo had worked with one of the primary investigators in Mexico on bats and Sherrier has conducted research on a compound to combat the fungal white-nose syndrome that afflicts the creatures.

“I put her in contact with my adviser, and he sent me some other advisers, so that’s how science works,” Toledo said.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

In Memoriam: Former plant sciences chairperson Merle Teel remembered

Merle R. Teel of West Lafayette, Indiana, the first chairperson of what is now the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, died May 6. He was 94. 

Dr. Teel joined the UD faculty in 1968 as the first chairperson of the newly formed Department of Plant Sciences. He remained at UD until 1989, when he retired as a full professor.

Thompson D. Pizzolato, professor of plant and soil sciences, said, “Merle Teel was the best agronomist I knew. He understood and enthusiastically explained the taxonomy, anatomy and physiology of the cereals, turf and wild grasses. He was a kind and eager teacher and a humble and gentle man. He was also an entertaining conversationalist. With these characteristics, Merle started many undergraduates, graduate students and young professors on to successful careers.”

Born Jan. 7, 1920, Dr. Teel was the sixth of seven children. He graduated from the Nebraska School of Agriculture in Curtis, Nebraska, in 1936. Having earned a certificate to teach school, he found opportunities at the South Brush School near Maywood, and in the McPherson County Public School in Tryon, Nebraska. 

He was drafted into the service in February 1942, eventually serving as a forward observer with the 45th Infantry Division in Germany. 

After earning two degrees — in agronomic science from the University of Nebraska and a doctorate from Purdue University in 1956 — he joined the faculty of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he taught pasture management and conducted research dealing with mineral nutrition and metabolism in crop plants, until 1968 when he went to Delaware.

After retiring from UD, Dr. Teel returned to West Lafayette, Indiana, with his wife, the former Elizabeth J. Puckett. 

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; two daughters, Keri Lee and Maggie Miller; and two stepsons, Michael and Jeffrey Puckett. 

Services were held May 10. 

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware. Please send contributions to: University of Delaware, Gifts Processing, 83 East Main St., 3rd Floor, Newark, DE 19716. Make checks payable to “University of Delaware” and include on the memo line the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and Dr. Teel’s name, for whom the gift is being made.

Online condolences may be shared at

UDRF awards 11 new projects

BME-Day_Emily-Colburn_Lab-111113The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF) has funded 11 projects by UD faculty in areas ranging from triple-negative breast cancer to storm hazards.

A private corporation chartered in 1955, UDRF sponsors an annual funding competition for early career, untenured, and tenure-track faculty across the sciences and engineering at the University.

Investigators are eligible for grants of up to $35,000. The awards include $25,000 in UDRF funding, which is matched by $5,000 from the provost and $5,000 from the awardee’s respective college dean.

“For decades, the University of Delaware Research Foundation has provided valuable seed funding to tenure-track faculty early in their careers,” said Charlie Riordan, vice provost for research. “This year’s cadre of award recipients includes faculty members from five colleges highlighting the breadth of research excellence at UD. The funding will be used by our new colleagues to collect preliminary research data necessary for them to prepare nationally competitive proposals in the current hyper-competitive federal and private sector research funding climate.”

The funded projects include the following:

  • A first step toward a new breast cancer treatment — Emily Day, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will explore the potential of photothermally active spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) as a next-generation therapy for triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive disease that grows quickly and metastasizes early.
  • Designing nanostructures for advanced thermoelectric materials — Joseph Feser, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will analyze the scattering of heat particles called phonons from embedded nanostructures to identify the characteristics that will advance the design of thermoelectric materials with ultra-low heat flow for use in power generation and refrigeration.
  • Why are women more likely to leave STEM fields? — Chad Forbes, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will focus on understanding why women who are initially the most invested and motivated to succeed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) faculty positions and other careers are ironically the most likely to leave such fields.
  • Uncovering the neurobiological mechanisms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — Dayan Knox, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will test the hypothesis that enhanced interactions between the glucocorticoid receptor, to which the stress hormone cortisol binds, and enzyme kinases in the ventral hippocampus during fear memory consolidation leads to abnormal fears.
  • A coupled wave-ocean modeling system to assess coastal Delaware storm hazards — Tobias Kukulka, assistant professor of physical ocean science and engineering, will validate a hydrodynamic model for predicting coastal storm surges during tropical cyclones and northeasters by comparing simulations of currents and surface waves along the Delaware coast with existing observations.
  • Advancing physical rehabilitation after stroke — Susanne Morton, associate professor of physical therapy, will test whether traditional physical therapy paired with safe, non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation – tDCS) can improve the recovery of motor function in stroke patients compared to traditional therapy alone.
  • Investigating ionic liquid – gas uptake — John Newberg, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will shed light on the interaction of molecules at the gas-ionic liquid interface using a transformative new technology known as ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (APXPS) housed in UD’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab).
  • Using optogenetics to uncover osteocyte behavior — Christopher Price, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will apply optogenetic techniques, which use light to control cells engineered to express photoactivatable ion channels, in a novel study of bone cells (osteocytes). Such techniques have been used to map neural signaling and behavioral pathways in living organisms and now will be applied to musculoskeletal research.
  • Determining whether sex impacts neonatal immunity — Jaclyn Schwarz, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will test the hypothesis that boys may be more vulnerable than girls to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADHD, schizophrenia and cerebral palsy because of the increased numbers of microglia, or resident immune cells, in the brain that may make boys vulnerable to early life events that impact the immune system.
  • Understanding how silicon can affect arsenic levels in rice — Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, will examine the impact of increasing dissolved silicon in rice paddies as a mitigation strategy to decrease the uptake of arsenic by rice, one of the most important food crops in the world.
  • Creating a new drug screening model — John Slater, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will develop a methodology to fabricate highly vascularized microfluidic systems embedded in synthetic matrices to mimic the architecture and transport properties of native tissue. The synthetic model will be implemented for high throughput drug screening applications to lower the cost associated with new drug development.
  • The Neural Basis of Reward Learning — Timothy Vickery, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will examine how learned associations between rewards and visual stimuli play a central role in human decision-making. Human neuroimaging (fMRI) will be used to assess the connectivity of human visual regions with reward learning regions during high or low monetary outcomes.

Photo by Evan Krape

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