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NIFA Planned Research Initiatives

Agriculture

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Nearly all food and agricultural waste in the U.S. enters landfills, making it the largest contributor of material entering these sites. Biological pre-treatment of large organic molecules by fermentative organisms lowers the high organic carbon load in waste, lowers wastewater treatment costs, and can produce bioenergy to partially offset costs. Conceivably, microbes that grow best above 80°C, or so-called ‘hyperthermophiles’, could be used to consolidate wastewater heat treatment and organic remediation in a single step to decrease costs while producing H2 as an energy product.

African trypanosomes are flagellated protozoa that cause sleeping sickness in people and Nagana in domestic animals. These diseases are fatal if left untreated. The diseases are endemic in the humid and semi-humid zones of Africa affecting a landmass of 10 million km 2 and 36 countries. Trypanosomiasis precludes cattle-based agriculture from much of this area and threatens up to 60 million people, of whom about a half million are presently infected.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

This research will examine possible affects of climate change on certain agricultural crop plants. It will include experiments that will allow prediction of how timothy and alfalfa plants will respond to future elevated CO2 and O3 levels.

Department of Project: Cranberry Station

Cranberry production has a long history in Massachusetts (MA) that adds important economic and aesthetic value to the region.  About 30% of U.S. acreage and the two largest cranberry handler companies are located in Massachusetts. In efforts to maximize production efficiency and profitability, and in response to low per barrel (100lb unit of measure) pricing, cranberry growers have identified replanting to higher‐yielding, large‐fruited cultivars as a key practice that can increase their per acre returns. In this project, we will focus on key pest and water management practices for large fruited, high yielding, cranberry hybrid cultivars.

 Despite the fact that plants are a rich source of novel molecules, valuable to both basic and applied sciences, only a fraction of the pathways and compounds in plants have been explored. The project proposed here seeks to discover novel plant-produced natural products with unique and valuable properties, as well as the genes and pathways involved in their synthesis. At the core of this effort is an extensive living Plant Cell Culture Library (PCCL) that was recently (2014) donated to UMass by Monsanto

Department of Project: Department of Biology

This project proposes to capture DNA sequences from armored scale insects intercepted at plant quarantine stations, while carefully identifying each specimen in the traditional way by mounting on a microscope slide. The results -- DNA sequences from well-identified specimens—will help us develop a DNA-based system of identification, and also contribute to improving our understanding of the history and diversity of armored scale insects and their relationships with their host plants.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

This projects involves two aspects of equine operations: manure handling and a comparison of footing materials. This project will evaluate two simple low cost aerated static composting systems for typical small acreage horse and/or livestock operations. In addition, it  will evaluate various footing materials and provide the cost of operation and materials for each used material.

Optimal food production by plants requires a sufficient supply of soil nutrients, the most limiting of which is nitrogen. Sustained agricultural productivity has historically been maintained in the rich world by copious application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, with high cost to the economy and the environment. Unique among crop species, legumes produce their own nitrogen nutrient through a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria collectively known as rhizobia. In this symbiosis, the bacteria convert molecular nitrogen into ammonia in exchange for host photosynthate. Studying the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis and fully explore its potential can boost the productivity of legume crops in the short term, and may expand this ability to non-legume crops over the long run. However, the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis is a complex system, and currently we know too few of the molecular players involved. This project will optimize two methods to reduce the activity of a given gene, and use these methods to screen for legume genes required for the function of the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis. The result of such endeavors should be a comprehensive list of legume genes playing critical roles in interacting with their rhizobial symbionts, and help unveal crucial biological processes in the interaction between plants and beneficial microbes.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

    All food crop varieties, regardless of species, must meet certain quality standards related to their role in food production. Humans have achieved these quality standards through millennia via the processes of domestication and breeding for improvement.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Rootstocks are the most critical element in any orchard system.  It controls disease and insect susceptibility, tree vigor, treeproductivity and fruit quality and maturation.  Many new rootstocks become available annually, and our work evaluates those rootstocks under Massachusetts conditions.  Compiled with evaluations from across North america, we are able then to make very good recommendations regarding rootstock use in orchard systems.  Expected outcomes include increased orchard profitability and a general reduction in orchard canopy volume.  the latter results in lower pesticide requirements.  Further expected impacts include improved fruit quality. 

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Utilizing food systems to improve nutrition without the need for artificial fortification of food or use of dietary supplements of mineral nutrients is important in ending malnutrition. Malnutrition from deficiencies of mineral elements is reported to be on the rise worldwide, even in the United States. It is estimated that half of the world population suffers from incidences of mineral nutrient deficiencies. These deficiencies limit the physical, intellectual, and mental health activities of the affected people. The deficiencies appear to derive from diminished contents of mineral nutrients in foods of plant (vegetables, fruits) or animal (meats, milk, cheese) origins. With fruits and vegetables, the decline in nutrients is related in part to depletion of nutrients from soils without adequate replenishment with fertilization. Some of the diminished nutrient contents in fruits and vegetables may be related to genetics of new cultivated varieties of produce. Research is needed to develop systems of food crop production that will supply adequate mineral nutrition directly through crop-related foods and from meats and dairy products from livestock and poultry that are provided with adequate mineral nutrition. The research proposed under this project will provide a foundation of data obtained through field, greenhouse, and laboratory research to enable the investigators to pursue studies in planning sustainable food systems for human nutrition and crop production. The research will allow the investigators to obtain data that will help to ascertain if the nutrient content of vegetables and fruits can be enhanced through selection of crop varieties and improved nutrition of crops through fertilization and soil amendments.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

Agricultural crops exist as part of an ecosystem, in which they interact not only with pest species but also with a wide range of "mutualists," including pollinators, beneficial soil fungi, and natural enemies of pests. This project addresses how interactions amongst both damaging and beneficial species affect crops and pollinators by examining three different economically important systems in Massachusetts: production of cucumbers and cranberries and managed bees.

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

This research will examine possible affects of climate change on certain agricultural crop plants. It will include experiments that will allow prediction of how alfalfa plants will respond to future elevated CO2 (800ppm) and elevated ozone (O3) (80ppb).

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

The presence and prevalence of known pathogens of honey bees and bumble bees will be measured to assist in determining the role that these agents play in the decline of bee colony health. In addition, the project will focus on the impacts of certain pesticides in agricultural settings on bee pollinators other than the already well-studied honey bees.

Two new fungicides now dominate applications of choice during cranberry bloom and are recommended for simultaneous use. Growers frequently add an insecticide simultaneously to the fungicide mix in order to manage the key pest, cranberry fruitworm. Alone, all of the compounds are considered 'bee safe' and bloom sprays are allowed. Our preliminary assessments suggest that bees may be at risk by these combination sprays, perhaps owing to a synergy of the compounds. The proposed cage studies will look at immediate and more long term impacts of this practice.

Nutrition

Department of Project: Department of Nutrition

Mounting epidemiological and experimental evidence consistently indicates that obesity is a robust risk factor for several common cancers, and especially so for colorectal cancer. As obesity has reached an epidemic level and increases in the scope of the problem are further projected, it is critical to understand the mechanism(s) responsible for the link and thereby to develop strategies for prevent obesity-related cancer. The aim of this project is to explore dietary strategies to attenuate obesity-associated colonic inflammation.

Department of Project: Department of Nutrition

This research will investigate whether the same type of physical environment needed to promote improved dietary behaviors in families and children will also be effective in older adults. Information gathered will assist nutrition professionals in designing interventions for older adults emphasizing the need for fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet and based on factors relevant to them. Results will also be used to design community-wide food and environmental policies.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

This research focuses on two essential organ systems of house flies, in order to explore non-traditional control strategies for the insects. Control of flies is thought to have a potential strong impact on transmission of food pathogens.

Commercial Horticulture

Due to regulatory changes, golf course superintendants have been left with no effective management for plant parasitic nematodes. This research will test commercially-available and experimental alternatives.

The long-term goal of this research is to gather more empirical data that will help practitioners decide which trees to choose for a particular site. The same settings where trees provide benefits present challenging and even severe growing conditions that may thwart survival and growth (Jutras et al. 2010). Empirical data to describe the survival and growth of such trees are limited, and most of the work has considered trees growing in field plots rather than actual residential settings (Watson et al. 1986; Morgenroth 2011). This work will help to quantify survival and growth of trees in residential settings.

Community & Economic Vitality

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

This project focuses on the physical and mental health outcomes for rural low-income families. It will examine the relationships and interactions among policy, communities, and families and how these processes change over time to affect health.

Environmental Conservation

This project utilizes robotic submersible technology to characterize submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) blooms in the Charles River in Massachusetts.

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

Hypothetical bias is a major problem in the economic valuation of ecosystem services. Because of this bias, the estimated value of ecosystem services may often be in error. The purpose of this research is to devise and test an improved method for the elimination of hypothetical bias

This project aims to design and synthesize the renewable biopolymer chitosan into novel nano-constructs that will efficiently remove tungsten from dilute aqueous solutions.

Fishing is highly popular worldwide and a dominant use of many fish stocks (Cooke & Cowx 2004). There is a growing movement where anglers voluntarily practice catch-and-release to help maintain healthy fish stocks. It is therefore essential to develop conservation-minded angling practices to ensure the sustain ability of recreational fisheries and the conservation of exploited fish species.

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

This project aims to design and conduct economic laboratory experiments to investigate behavioral issues related to the defense of common pool resources from encroachment by outsiders. Common pool resources are assets -- often natural assets such as forests, fisheries and water supplies --t hat are managed by a group of users. We will design and conduct a series of laboratory experiments to examine the ability of a group of resource users to simultaneously manage their own exploitation of a resource and defend their resource from outside encroachment.

Despite the significant efforts to reduce nitrogen discharge from wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs), the Long Island Sound (LIS) area affected by hypoxia actually increased over the last decade. Our preliminary research has suggested that WWTFs utilizing the biological nitrogen removal (BNR) process may actually increase particular forms of N that are more potent for algal bloom in LIS. We propose a research plan to evaluate the true impact of upgrading WWTF for N removal (i.e., BNR) on receiving water eutrophication and toxic algal bloom.

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

A number of studies show that the probability of audit and the size of the penalty for violation impact compliance rates, Advancing our understanding of these issues will lead to more efficient enforcement in the sense that for a given budget the regulator will be able to induce a higher level of compliance. The second stage of the project will investigate the effects of general deterrence and audit uncertainty in markets.

The intent of this research project is to investigate the structural viability of using low-value local trees as part of a new, value-added wood-bamboo glue-laminated building product.

Invasive plants lead to the loss of crop revenue in agricultural systems, damage native habitats and wildlife populations, and alter ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling. This project will map the abundance of 13 problematic invasive plants across the northeastern United States by collecting expert knowledge. We will then predict invasion risk based on current climactic suitability, as well as future risk associated with climate change.

American elms represent some of the most culturally and economically significant urban trees. Their contributions to the urban landscape are numerous and include: carbon sequestration, capture of storm water and airborne particulate matter, reduced heating and cooling costs through wind buffering and shade and enhanced aesthetics with their large, sweeping canopies. Prior to the introduction of Dutch Elm Disease, American elms dominated the urban and suburban landscape because of their beauty, rapid growth rates and ability to tolerate difficult growing conditions.  Despite the devastating effects of the disease, millions of American elms still occupy the urban and forest landscape today. But, after decades of regular injection the costs associated with these treatments are adversely impacting tree heath and this issue must be addressed. The UMass Shade Tree Laboratory, now the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, was founded in 1935 with the sole purpose of combating the DED epidemic. Now, 80 years later the fight against this destructive disease continues in ways that could never be predicted decades ago.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Global climate change affects every aspect of our life. Global warming increases the intensity of drought, which leads to the increase in frequency and severity of forest fires. Beyond being a source of soot and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), severe wildfires/forest fires can damage soils, water quality and quantity, fisheries, plant communities, wildlife habitat, and endangered species; result in economic and property loss; and cause harms to the environment and public health. Forest thinning or prescribed burns reduce the accumulation of hazardous fuels and restore forest health.  The major cause of global warming is the ever-increasing concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from the use of carbon-based fuels. Biochar, the anaerobic pyrolysis productof biomass waste material, has attracted research interest as a soil amendment that may improve soil structure, moisture retention, and buffering capacity, and that helps control plant root diseases and sequester carbon in soils (instead of release to air as CO2), as a result, mitigate greenhouse effect. Therefore, the goal of this proposed project is to utilize wood waste materials to produce biochar which can be used in both forest and agricultural soils to improve soil quality, sequester carbon in soils, and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2 and N2O).

 

The long-term goal of this research is to gather more empirical data that will help practitioners decide which trees to choose for a particular site. The same settings where trees provide benefits present challenging and even severe growing conditions that may thwart survival and growth (Jutras et al. 2010). Empirical data to describe the survival and growth of such trees are limited, and most of the work has considered trees growing in field plots rather than actual residential settings (Watson et al. 1986; Morgenroth 2011). This work will help to quantify survival and growth of trees in residential settings.

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

The presence and prevalence of known pathogens of honey bees and bumble bees will be measured to assist in determining the role that these agents play in the decline of bee colony health. In addition, the project will focus on the impacts of certain pesticides in agricultural settings on bee pollinators other than the already well-studied honey bees.

Two new fungicides now dominate applications of choice during cranberry bloom and are recommended for simultaneous use. Growers frequently add an insecticide simultaneously to the fungicide mix in order to manage the key pest, cranberry fruitworm. Alone, all of the compounds are considered 'bee safe' and bloom sprays are allowed. Our preliminary assessments suggest that bees may be at risk by these combination sprays, perhaps owing to a synergy of the compounds. The proposed cage studies will look at immediate and more long term impacts of this practice.

Acid rain and atmospheric pollution continue to be regional and national problems. The site's data contributes to the accurate assessment of precipitation chemistry and the effectiveness of the nation's air pollution laws and regulations.

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Global climate change and nitrogen deposition are processes that will only increase as industrialization continues. The purpose of this study is to understand the response of the microbially driven soil nitrogen cycle to the combined effects of temperature increase and nitrogen amendments in forest soils of New England.

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Reaching the potential for renewable biofuels depends on the development of new technologies that are able to release the energy stored in cellulose fibers. This research project centers around an unusual microbe, Clostridium phytofermentans, that can convert a broad range of biomass sources directly to ethanol without expensive thermochemical pretreatment. Further development of conversion processes using C. phytofermentans will create a path to renewable biofuels using our region's sustainable forestry and crop resources.

This project involves development of a new efficient alternative for light-frame construction -- a sustainable biomaterial composite deck system, a floor or roof comprised of wood-based beams and a concrete slab that are integrally connected to function as a single unit. It is expected that this work will change the way light-frame construction is being done in North America towards more sustainable building practices that reduce material and energy consumption.

Energy

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Nearly all food and agricultural waste in the U.S. enters landfills, making it the largest contributor of material entering these sites. Biological pre-treatment of large organic molecules by fermentative organisms lowers the high organic carbon load in waste, lowers wastewater treatment costs, and can produce bioenergy to partially offset costs. Conceivably, microbes that grow best above 80°C, or so-called ‘hyperthermophiles’, could be used to consolidate wastewater heat treatment and organic remediation in a single step to decrease costs while producing H2 as an energy product.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

    All food crop varieties, regardless of species, must meet certain quality standards related to their role in food production. Humans have achieved these quality standards through millennia via the processes of domestication and breeding for improvement.

Utilities and power developers are buying farm land, removing it from agricultural production permanently, and placing photovoltaic solar arrays on the land. This research effort is investigating the possibility of dual use of farm land for agriculture and photovoltaic electrical power generation.

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Reaching the potential for renewable biofuels depends on the development of new technologies that are able to release the energy stored in cellulose fibers. This research project centers around an unusual microbe, Clostridium phytofermentans, that can convert a broad range of biomass sources directly to ethanol without expensive thermochemical pretreatment. Further development of conversion processes using C. phytofermentans will create a path to renewable biofuels using our region's sustainable forestry and crop resources.

This project involves development of a new efficient alternative for light-frame construction -- a sustainable biomaterial composite deck system, a floor or roof comprised of wood-based beams and a concrete slab that are integrally connected to function as a single unit. It is expected that this work will change the way light-frame construction is being done in North America towards more sustainable building practices that reduce material and energy consumption.

Water

This project utilizes robotic submersible technology to characterize submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) blooms in the Charles River in Massachusetts.

Food Science

Department of Project: Department of Food Science

 Nanotechnology is defined by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) as “…the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable applications. Here in this proposal, we aim to develop four nanotechnology enabled solutions to improve food quality, safety and nutrition.  A major trend in the modern food industry has been the development of functional foods designed to improve human health and wellbeing. Consumption of these foods may reduce the incidences of chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, eye disease, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension) or improve human performance (such as alertness, activity levels, memory, and stamina).

Department of Project: Department of Food Science

There is a strong association of chronic inflammation with various types of diseases.

However, many of the current treatments for chronic inflammation are limited due to undesirable side effects associated with their long-term use and research has shown bioactive dietary components to be promising candidates for the prevention of inflammation and associated diseases. Thus, the goal of this project is to investigate the role of food bioactives in conjunction with microbiomes in prevention of inflammatory responses.

Department of Project: Department of Food Science

Dietary factors are important predictors of long term health and the incidence of chronic disease. Laboratory methods will be employed, primarily in vitro models, such as in vitro digestion and tissue cultures, which will be used to evaluate the bioactivity of nutrients and other food bioactives to understand the mechanisms. The investigator will seek to advance the science of defining the role of bioactive dietary constituents for optimal human health. This will provide fertile grounds for ongoing collaborations and future collaborative research and grant proposal development.