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Current Research Projects by Department

Department: Department of Environmental Conservation

The expansive growth of solar photovoltaics (PV) in Massachusetts has helped make the state a leader in renewable energy production, but there have been public concerns regarding the development of agricultural lands for solar PV electricity production. In response to these concerns, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) included provisions in the new state solar energy program which limit conventional ground-mounted solar arrays on farmland, while encouraging innovative "dual-use" technology. Under the new Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, there is a significant financial incentive for dual-use systems which limit shading and obstructions, and require continued agricultural production on the land below and around solar arrays.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Your land is a part of your legacy. You have been a good steward of your land. Deciding what will happen to your land after you are gone is the next critical step of being a good steward. In fact it may be the most important step you can take as a landowner. Who will own your land and how will it be used? What will your legacy be?

Your land is likely one of your most valuable assets, especially if you have owned it for a long time and it has increased in value.  However, there is more to land than just its financial value. Because land can be connected to memories, experiences, and feelings, your land may also have significant personal value. Deciding what to do with your land brings with it the challenge of providing for both these financial and personal needs.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

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.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Should management actions for declining species, such as forest-dwelling songbirds, focus more on enhancing habitat, controlling predators, controlling basal resources, or combined approaches?  We aim to address this question by investigating two key hypotheses that may account for the so-called predation paradox. The outcomes of these two interconnected studies will provide information to assess whether actions to reduce predator densities would be an effective means of managing urbanizing forests for declining songbird species.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Forest conservation and management is already complex in New England.  Changes in temperature, precipitation, winter conditions and the timing of seasons have already been documented, and further changes are expected well into the future (Horton et al. 2014). Changes in forest conditions and the geographic distribution of forest types are likely to threaten some ecosystems more than others. Areal coverage of boreal forest and Northern hardwood forests are projected to decline based on model projections (Janowiak et al. 2018). This would affect those species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms that depend on these ecosystems (Janowiak et al. 2018).
Ecosystems within forested environments, such as streams and wetlands, are also likely to undergo changes that will make it difficult to support viable populations of fish and wildlife and maintain forest biodiversity. For example, as air temperatures rise, corresponding increases in water temperature will further stress cold-water streams. As a result, cold-water stream habitats may disappear or become smaller and more fragmented (Preston 2006, Manomet Center 2013).
Landowners, foresters, conservation organizations, and municipal officials (forest decision- makers) need research-based information on potential impacts on forests and spatially explicit information to guide adaptation strategies and actions. Active conservation measures are necessary to: limit stream warming, identify and conserve potential cold-water refugia, strategically target land protection for refugia for threatened forest types, and ensure terrestrial and aquatic connectivity to maintain viable populations of species dependent on these threatened forest ecosystems. To increase resistance and resiliency to climate change, forest management practices will need to change to ensure species and structural diversity, and adjust to emerging threats, such as invasive species, pests and diseases. 

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

 Invasive plants are species introduced from another region (non-native) that have established self-sustaining populations and are spreading, often with substantial negative consequences.  Invasive plants have numerous detrimental effects on forest ecosystems.  Several forest understory invasive plants, such as oriental bittersweet, autumn olive, and honeysuckle outcompete or reduce growth of native vegetation. For example, glossy buckthorn grows in dense thickets that shade out native tree saplings and reduce their overall survival by up to 90%. Invasive plants also threaten forest regeneration by altering soil chemistry. For example, garlic mustard releases allelopathic chemicals that kill soil mycorrhizae and inhibit the establishment of native tree seedlings.  As a result of their vigorous growth, invasive plants are often able to dominate ecosystems following disturbance and impede forest succession.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

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.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

This study will provide important information on long-term trends in water demand and supply, aid in the formulation of water policies for water resource development, and offer information to help protect surface and groundwater supplies. This project will also target areas with the best potential for surface augmentation of water supplies based on the relative benefits and costs of water supply augmentation (through spatially explicit policies for runoff mitigation and groundwater recharge). This project will evaluate water resources within a watershed ecosystem framework, and thereby will consider multiple supplies and uses of water resources. This study will address three areas of special interest to the region, namely:
• Water management in the context of forest loss and rapid development and conflict for water supply;
• Improvements in the assessment of water availability, incorporating technological, institutional, cultural and economic factors that   influence water use and water availability and;
• Improved methods of characterizing and quantifying components of the water cycle in forested watersheds.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

This study will investigate how the estimated density of a forest ecosystem bioindicator species, the red backed salamander (P. cinereus)  is influenced by the design of a commonly applied sampling protocol. The project will provide important insights into the utility of artificial cover board surveys as a method for estimating salamander density for use as an indicator of forest ecosystem condition.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

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.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

People depend on vegetables to provide major portions of the nutrition for healthy diets. For several years, the mineral nutrient elemental concentrations in vegetables has declined. The decline has been associated with the development of new cultivars of vegetables that have lower concentrations of nutrients than heirloom cultivars. Breeding of crops for accumulation of nutrients has potential for developing nutrient-rich vegetables but has not received much attention in genetic improvement of vegetables.  Cultural practices may give great and practical process for enhancing nutrient concentrations in vegetables, and cultural practices concerning fertilization to enhance nutrients in vegetables will be a priority in this project. Organic fertilization of crops is required for certification of organic produce. Producing equal yields and equal nutrient contents in organically fertilized vegetables compared to vegetables fertilized with chemicals are challenges. The research in this project will evaluate cultural methods that may be employed to enrich nutrient contents in vegetables through practices of fertilization organically or conventionally.This project includes a series of related experiments to assess nutrient accumulation in vegetables, primarily lettuce, in response to selection of cultivars of crops and management of fertilization. Organic fertilization will be compared to conventional practices of fertilization to determine growth and composition of lettuce in field plot and greenhouse investigations. Investigations concerning hydroponic production and modification of soil-based or peat-based media with organic or microbial amendents will be conducted to assess the effects of these amendments on productivity and nutrient composition of produce from vegetables.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Nanoparticles (NPs) are defined as particles with at least one dimension smaller than 100 nm. As particle size decreases the reactivity of the surface atoms could increase dramatically. These unique properties make nano-sized particles valuable engineering materials because of their extraordinary strength, chemical reactivity, electrical conductivity, or other characteristics that the same material does not possess at the micro- or macro-scales. ENPs are being exposed to different environmental niches via deposition of airborne NPs, application of agrochemicals containing NPs, accidental spills, land application of sewage sludge biosolids, and landfill leachates. There the environmental risks of ENPs are attracting increasing attention from both the public and scientific communities due to their toxicity to organisms. The main pathways through which MNPs are introduced to arable soils are the application of sewage sludge (biosolids) and irrigation with treated wastewater. These agricultural practices are common in many countries including USA. Contamination of agricultural soils with ENPs is of great concern due to their uptake by crops, thus posing the problem to food safety and exposure to humans. To ensure safe application of biosolids and irrigation with treated wastewater containing ENPs, there is an urgent need to investigate the fate of ENPs in the soil-water-planMass Agricultural Experiment Stationt system and to evaluate the associated risks. Therefore, this research will determine the environmental fate and process of several types of ENPs and their plant uptake and translocation in soil-water-plant systems. Also, we will study how ENPs affect the availability and uptake of other contaminants (e.g., metals and antibiotics) by plants. The results of this study are expected to help us understand how these ENPs interact with soil and water reactive components (e.g., DOM, clays). In addition, we will better understand the retention, bioavailability, uptake and translocation, transformation and phytotoxicity of ENPs in soil-waterplant system. Also, we can provide useful data for assessing the mobility, exposure and risk of ENPs in agriculture and the environment in general.

Interest Area: 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.

Interest Area: Agriculture

This project addresses, via research and Extension, two important pests affecting tree-fruit and berry production in Massachusetts, the Plum Curculio and the Spotted Wing Drosophila.  The main goal of this project is to evaluate the attractiveness of aromatic compounds to overwintered plum curculio and to other early season pests.

Interest Area: 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. 

Interest Area: Agriculture

The herbal and botanical product market, estimated at more than US $60 billion in 2003, has been increasing at 6 to 8 % per year. According to the United Nations Comtrade Statistics, the estimated size of the global market for essential oils, fragrances, and flavors in 2013, was US $26 billion, growing an average rate of 8.1% in the past five years. The market for herbal dietary supplements in the United States has reached an estimated total of $6.4 billion, increasing by 6.85% in 2014 as compared with the previous year. Improvements in production of medicinal and aromatic plant products are needed to meet increased market demands.

Early studies have demonstrated that soil microorganisms associated with plant roots can improve plant growth and development through various mechanisms, including increasing available nutrients to plants, synthesizing phytohormones, inducing plant stress tolerance, and suppressing pathogens. Although the mechanisms are not fully understood, studies have demonstrated that the use of soil microorganisms (PGPRs) can promote synthesis of secondary metabolites in plants, improving the quality and value of the medicinal and aromatic plants. While commercial PGPRs and mycorrhizal fungi are available for various grain crops and vegetables in the United States, few of these products are available for medicinal and aromatic plants.

In the proposed study, PGPRs and mycorrhizal fungi will be studied for the growth and secondary metabolite synthesis in the Lamiaceae and other herbal families for their use in culinary and essential oil products. The development of PGPRs and mycorrhizal treatment that improve medicinal and aromatic plant yields and secondary metabolite production can lead to increased profits for growers and industries using natural products.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Winegrape cultivar selection is among the most important components of vineyard and viticulture industry management. Prior to the turn of the 21st century, most U.S. states produced few to no winegrapes, primarily because of limitation in cold hardiness and disease resistance of the Vitis vinifera, the European winegrape species that comprises most commercial cultivars grown in the U.S. in traditional production regions. The introduction of new, interspecific hybrid cultivars has allowed for the development of grape industries in regions not previously considered possible. At the same time, continued evaluation of V. vinifera and hybrid cultivars and clones is critical to maintaining the winegrape industries in non-traditional regions. The major V. vinifera cultivars grown worldwide were selected over decades or even centuries for best suitability in European regions, and were then spread to California's and other arid western U.S. states. As new winegrape industries emerge, continued growth, and the economic impact that comes with it, is dependent on improving quality and quantity of grapes and wine produced. Continued discovery, development, and evaluation of winegrape cultivars and clones is critical for maintaining growth within this emerging agricultural sector.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Improving water management is of increasing importance in horticultural operations. A growing global population and changes in water availability will mean that less water will be available for ornamental plant production. There are also a growing number of federal and state regulations regarding water use and runoff from production areas. Better irrigation and fertilization management practices will help to limit the environmental impact of container plant production by limiting the runoff of water and nutrients from nurseries. It will help growers to meet regulations regarding nutrient management and runoff. Reductions in runoff will help improve quality in local ecosystems.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The public desires turfgrass that is well maintained with less chemical inputs, however, these expectations are difficult to reliably meet without a better understanding of the complex interactions between plants and the microbial community. The microbial communities that encompass the turfgrass system are vast and diverse. They include studying interactions between the pathogenic and beneficial microbes that reside on the surface of turfgrass, rhizosphere, rhizoplane, and root interim microbiome. These areas can be further investigated due to the recent technological advances/tools and can facilitate the development of environmentally sustainable management practices and inputs.

Interest Area: 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.

Interest Area: Commercial Horticulture

Development and spread of the insecticide resistant in annual bluegrass weevil populations and demands for sustainable and environmentally sound turfgrass insect pest management options highlighted a crucial need in the development and improvement of the microbial options for tufgrass insect management. The main goal of our study is to investigate potential of the enthomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium brunneum as a possible strategy for annual bluegrass weevil control. Particularly, we will focus on addressing the following issues: 1) compare efficacy of older conidia and newer Microsclerotia formulations against ABW adults and larvae; 2) determine potential of the M. brunneum for mananging pyrethroid resistant populations 3) determine potential synergistic effect of combining fungus and imidacloprid.

Interest Area: Commercial Horticulture

Results from the proposed new NE multistate project will help us to develop an understanding of how vernal pool ecosystems differ across the region in distribution, hydrology, periods of inundation (hydroperiod), redox chemistry, and carbon storage, flux, and accounting. In addition, we will continue our region-wide focus on hydric soils and hydric indicators to determine if there is a need for additional hydric soil indicators for vernal pool ecosystems. We will use our data to develop empirical and spatial quantitative models to predict and represent the landscape distribution of vernal pools, and how climatic change may affect these wetland ecosystems. A continuation of this project will provide a forum to advance our knowledge of these systems and the associated soils and provide an outlet for the dissemination of our knowledge across the region to stakeholders that are seeking answers to their use, management, and restoration questions. Working within the proposed regional framework will allow for testing of hypotheses across climatic gradients, across parent material types (coastal plain, residual, and glacial), and among different types and settings of vernal pools. Testing these hypotheses is not possible for a single investigator working within a single state and must be done at the regional level. Addressing these questions within a regional framework is also critical because the major agencies that use the soils information that pedologists collect, such as USDA-NRCS, USACOE, USEPA, all work in a region-wide context. In addition, working groups such as the New England Hydric Soil Technical Committee and Mid-Atlantic Hydric Soils Committee, who offer guidance to regional regulatory bodies like the New England Water Pollution Control Commission (http://www.neiwpcc.org/), need soils information that is not restricted by state boundaries.

Recent focus of the USACOE and other federal agencies to develop regional supplements as amendments to the 1987 Wetlands Delineation Manual (Environmental Laboratory, 1987) provide additional incentive to work region-wide in applied research. Data gathered, relationships that are established, and interpretations that are made are therefore much more meaningful to the user if the science was tested within a region-wide context. These studies also take advantage of the range of experiences and skills of the pedologists across the region.

 

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

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).

 

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences

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.

Interest Area: Agriculture

We have promising proof-of-concept results with a small cohort of mares and would like to conduct further studies with additional mares to address the safety and efficacy of this approach. This is a proof of concept project that addresses: a) potential harmful endocrine disruptors; and b) dangerous mare behavior patterns associated with estrus that put horse riders and handlers at risk; and c) the hypothesis that current inadequacies in equine estrus control need to be revisited. The objectives of this study are to continue to test and perfect a new SIUD that would suppress the expression of estrus behavior in
mares by extending the lifespan of corpora lutea. In addition, we will embed the devices with a i) progestogen, as a tool for estrus synchronization in embryo transfer programs, ii) copper, as a contraceptive and iii) test fertility in mares carrying a copper SIUD.
Methods
We will have mares of mixed breed, age and parity, and under the care of the Equine Management Program, UMass Amherst. This research will be in full compliance with UMass IACUC. Mares will be observed for change in behavior by a Massachusetts licensed rider instructor for handling, training and rideability: 1) no change; 2) change; 3) significant change. Progesterone will be assayed every other day or biweekly. Paired uterine biopsies will be taken immediately before or at the time of insertion and retrieval. Progesterone and biopsy samples will be independently assayed/interpreted in offsite
reference institutions.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The relationship between domesticated animals and humans is a close one, and has existed for at least ten thousand years. It is important to understand the immune defenses of many animals, in addition to the immune defenses of humans and mice. The goal of our project is is characterize the genetic diversity of a family of immune receptors in domesticated animals and use this information for selective breeding and the design of better vaccines.

Interest Area: Agriculture

There is a great need to provide women with evidence based advice on how they can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Research has shown that compounds in fruits and vegetables have anti-cancer properties and most people agree that a diet rich in nutritious fruits and vegetables may help prevent breast cancer.  Because we want to look at changes directly in breast tissue of young women, we will study breastmilk and conduct a diet intervention study in women who are nursing their first born child.

Interest Area: Nutrition

 The purpose of this work is to determine if depolarizing insecticides, specifically the neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, cause insulin resistance (IR) in the obesity model insect D. melanogaster.  Employing field-realistic concentrations establishes this as a proof-of-principle experiment to develop the tools and strategy to study this process in the honeybee and its relationship to CCD. Nutritional factors are established major stressors involved in CCD. The reduced ability of bees to assimilate glucose due to IR would intensify the stress already caused by nutritional resources that are limited or of poor quality.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: 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.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Department: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

 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.

Interest Area: Agriculture

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.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Pollen grains germinate on the stigma, the receptive surface of the female organ pistil. Each pollen grain hydrates and extrudes a pollen tube whose function is to transport two sperm cells carried in its cytoplasm to the female gametophyte inside an ovule, usually located at some distance from the stigma. Recent research in plant reproduction has produced critical insights into how a pollen tube targets the female gametophyte (where the egg apparatus is located) through a female-guided process and how the pollen tube, once inside the female gametophyte, achieves sperm release to enable fertilization. Yet mechanisms that underlie the critical first pollen-pistil interactive steps on the stigma, i.e. adhesion of pollen grains on the stigma, pollen hydration, activation and extrusion of the pollen tube to penetrate the stigmatic tissue, remain unclear. The project utilizes the
model plant Arabidopsis to elucidate how these early events are orchestrated. In particular, we examine the contribution by three related receptor kinases (RKs) expressed in the stigma, FERONIA (FER), HERCULES1 (HERK1) and RK7.

Interest Area: Agriculture

This project aims to discover local cost-effective feedstock opportunities for sustainable production of high-added value compounds by 1) enriching the PCCL (Plant Cell Culture Library) collection in plant species commonly found or cultivated in Massachusetts, 2) implementing ecologically meaningful elicitation tactics for controlled biosynthesis of metabolites with desired properties, and 3) adapting and developing chemical and biological high-throughput screening (HTS) tactics for rapid discovery of unique valorization-enabling properties

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Department: Department of Biology

Current knowledge of the molecular mechanisms governing plant iron uptake and translocation is limited, as is our knowledge of how these processes are controlled at the molecular level. During this project, we will use molecular, biochemical, and physiological approaches to better understand mechanisms of nutrient (i.e., iron) uptake, a stated goal of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The focus of this proposal is on gene discovery, an engine for crop improvement in two important ways. Most obviously, understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for iron uptake and homeostasis is a requirement for genetic engineering approaches to crop improvement. Without knowledge of the genes involved, we cannot know what engineered approaches could be taken. However, public acceptance of engineering approaches is limited, and
partly because of this, breeding approaches have been extremely important in currently used efforts to enhance the iron concentration in the edible parts of plants. Many studies have identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) that have small effects. Discovery of additional genes will be essential in identifying the genes underlying these QTL and in understanding their function. At present, limited mechanistic knowledge limits our ability to understand these genes.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Increased use of biomass fuels is a promising renewable option to reduce greenhouse gases and decrease our dependence on foreign oil. A joint study by the DOE and USDA determined that there is an annual supply of greater than one billion tons of nongrain biomass available from forestry and agricultural resources to support a renewable biofuels industry, more than enough to meet the US government's target of displacing 30% of current US petroleum consumption by 2030 (Somerville 2006). Realizing renewable biofuels depends on technologies that are able to release the energy stored in cellulose fibers at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, to date there has not been sufficient progress towards a broad, economically viable solution to the plant biomass recalcitrance problem.
One area ripe for development is breeding of improved biofuel feedstocks that will optimize current conversion methods. Breeding of improved energy crops hinges on identifying the genetic mechanisms underlying traits that benefit energy production. Determining the key genetic contributors  influencing biofuel traits is required in order to determine the viability of these traits as targets for improvement; only then will we be able to apply modern breeding practices, such as marker-assisted selection, for the rapid improvement of feedstocks. The exploitation of natural variation in plant species is an ideal approach to identify both the traits and the genes of interest in the production of biofuels.

 

Interest Area: Agriculture

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.

Interest Area: Agriculture

In maize and the grass family, programmed cell death has a particular role to play in floral development. Maize flowers are initially hermaphroditic, but become either male or female through differential organ abortion. In male flowers, the female floral organs (the carpels) stop growing after they have formed, and eventually undergo programmed cell death. Programmed cell death in the carpels of the male maize floret is partially under the control of the transcription factor grassy tillers1. In gt1 mutants, the carpels in male flowers do not abort completely (Whipple et al.; Bartlett et al., 2015). However, gt1 mutant flowers are not fully hermaphroditic, indicating the existence of other genes that act with gt1 to regulate carpel abortion and programmed cell death. Which other genes are involved in carpel abortion? How do they interact with known sex determination genes in maize?

We have designed a series of genetic experiments geared at answering these questions. We will use mutant analysis to investigate whether gt1 is part of known sex determination pathways in maize. In addition, we have isolated four maize mutants where the gt1 mutant phenotype is strongly enhanced and programmed cell death in male flowers is disrupted. Using genetic and genomic tools, we will identify the genes that have been disrupted in these mutants, and work to determine their precise roles in mediating growth repression and programmed cell death.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Eastern white pine has enormous economic value throughout its range. Over the region, the net volume of white pine saw logs is over 186 billion board feet (USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis). With a typical market price of $100/1,000 bd ft, the potential value of standing white pine is $18.6 billion. White pine attains the largest dimensions of any eastern tree serving as a critical habitat for many species of wildlife that depend on emergent crowns and large snags and downed woody debris. In addition, white pine serves as an important landscape ornamental and is widely planted in towns and cities across the eastern United States.  However,  in recent years White pines have experienced unprecedented damage due to native pests and pathogens that reduce growth, productivity and economic value.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Many bee pollinators are in decline, and exposure to diseases has been implicated as one of the potential causes. In my lab, we have already established that pollen from one domesticated sunflower source dramatically reduces Crithidia infection loads in the common eastern bumble bees in the laboratory, and that consumption of this pollen improves performance of healthy and infected bee microcolonies. We will expand this work by growing many sunflower cultivars and related taxa, collecting pollen, and repeating laboratory assays to establish how widespread this medicinal trait is across sunflower-related taxa.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Department of Resource Economics

We will develop a mathematical model that predicts how farmers (or firms) will make decisions when choosing between two markets. The markets we will study include a wholesale market, where farmer's products are no different from all other farmers, and a farm-to-school market where the farmer's products are differentiated (the farmer is known and the products are known to be locally produced). We will then design economic experiments that could be used to test the model's theoretical results. Plans for the design will focus on determining how farmers will allocate their products among the two markets given different levels of transaction costs and market power. We will also work on the design of a preliminary experiment to determine the social preferences of the "farmers." The choices of these "farmers" will then differ according to their social preferences, the transaction costs they face in marketing their products, and the amount of market power they possess and the school possesses.

Interest Area: Agriculture

The goal of this project is to understand  the many complexities of physical and mental health faced by rural low-income families within the context of their communities.  As more and more families, regardless of income level, face financial insecurity, those who are already at the bottom of the economic ladder become even more vulnerable. It is the economic issues confronting rural, disadvantaged families due to poor physical and mental health that will be addressed through this project.

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Department: Department of Microbiology

Pathogens and parasites including viruses and protozoa are known to be major contributors in the decline of honeybee colonies, yet we know very little about epizootiology of these agents. A primary reason for this lack of knowledge is the microscopic and submicroscopic nature of these bee pathogens. As part of our research we have developed and are continuing to develop molecular methods that allow us to detect and monitor the prevalence and spread of these infectious agents in bee populations. In addition we will be exploring the utility of small bio-reactive molecules for use in controlling viruses and protozoan pathogens without harming bees.

Interest Area: Agriculture

Department: 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.

Interest Area: Nutrition

 A major driver of food choice today among consumers is health promotion, which has resulted in ever-expanding research on bioactive food components and nutriceuticals. As each person's diet is a key contributor to health and disease risk, agriculture has been a core sector of economic viability and food production systems with the increasing recognition of the interface between nutrition and agriculture.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated many health benefits of food-based bioactive components, suggesting that bioactive molecules in our diet can be effective in preventing or delaying the disease process.

Therefore it is important to identify the novel bioactive molecules...capable of preventing diseases...through cellular signaling and gene regulation.

 

Interest Area: Nutrition

Mounting epidemiological and experimental evidence consistently indicates that obesity is a robust risk factor for colorectal cancer. As obesity has reached an epidemic level and further increases are projected in the future, it is critical to understand the mechanism(s) responsible for the link between obesity and colon cancer risk. Novel observations from our two recent studies indicate that a specific bacterium, Turicibacter, and the bacterial metabolite butyrate may act as mediators linking high fat diet-induced obesity and intestinal cancer, but not for genetically-induced obesity and intestinal cancer. This project aims to define this innovative mechanism, and thereby to inform the development of dietary strategies for preventing dietary obesity related intestinal cancer.

Interest Area: Nutrition

Department: Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning

Communities across the New England region and the country are facing challenges from climate change including more extreme storms, hotter and longer-lasing heat waves, more rain in winter and less in summer, as well as the slower but significant effects of sea level rise. Given the incremental development and long lives of the built environment, changes in municipal regulations take years to significantly change the buildings and infrastructure that make up our cities and towns. As a result, it is essential that communities begin now to adapt their built form regulations (zoning, building codes, road specifications, sewer infrastructure, etc.) so that as climate impacts worsen in the next decades, harm is minimized. However, outside of the major global cities such as Boston and New York, it is not clear how many communities have taken steps toward climate change adaptation.

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

New research into the challenges facing Springfield will offer insights into processes and approaches for revitalizing cities and will:

· Identify trends and reasons some American cities are rebounding

· Identify the factors that are inhibiting the revitalization of legacy cities

· Identify the factors that are inhibiting the revitalization of Springfield

· Identify new approaches to revitalizing legacy cities, including Springfield

· Disseminate new approaches to revitalizing legacy cities in ways that can impact other cities

· Explore ways to optimize the partnership between the UMass Design Center and the City of Springfield

· Implement new university supported design and planning projects in Springfield

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Municipalities worldwide are showing substantial interest in urban greening, defined here as the introduction or conservation of outdoor vegetation in cities. In many cases greening involves substantial tree planting, and across the United States cities have established ambitious canopy cover goals and major tree planting programs.  This study aims to assess longitudinal links between street tree vigor and neighborhood satisfaction and safety of recently planted urban trees. A "cohort" approach is especially relevant because trees are living organisms whose physical form changes substantially over time. Research on newly planted urban trees as a cohort across time is a relatively new line of scholarship that focuses primarily on tree survivorship and mortality; and to the best of our knowledge, no previous research has studied links between neighborhood satisfaction and safety, and urban tree plantings, as a longitudinal cohort. Neighborhood satisfaction and human safety are multidimensional phenomena that can be studied through a combination of objective and self-reported data. Four study areas will be determined based on a matrix of street tree health and recorded incidence of crime, which is one dimension of neighborhood satisfaction and safety. Residents on these streets will be incentivized to complete a neighborhood satisfaction survey which will include a prompt to communicate the places and features they perceive as safe/unsafe. In addition, urban design features and landscape characteristics will be documented for each study area. This combined set of data inventory and analysis will be conducted in the first year of the study (2018) and repeated in 2021. The data will be spatially and statistically analyzed to understand if street tree health and/ or changes in tree size/morphology contribute to neighborhood satisfaction and safety outcomes over time. This, in turn, may yield important insights about urban tree planting and management practice.

Interest Area: Community & Economic Vitality

Department: Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment

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.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

Department: Department of Geosciences

. Natural and restored wetlands are among the most biodiverse ecosystems present in Massachusetts, providing unique habitat for species ranging from insects and endangered native fishes to coastal birds and songbirds, and plants which thrive in environments that range from completely saturated year-round to dry. Because this niche environment is crucially important for ecosystem services (including, but not limited to verdant habitat and food supply for a large diversity of plant, animal and insect species, water filtration, slowing and spreading of floodwaters, limiting erosion, storage of carbon and other nutrients, temperature buffering, pollinator habitat and forage lands, and water storage), significant attention has been paid to conserving and restoring wetlands and their optimum function wherever possible. One of the most basic, defining metrics of a wetland is, as the name implies, its wetness. The relative water content in the soil can be assessed in a variety of ways, and this quantity alone is important for reasons beyond wetland function. Specifically, for a wetland to become established and remain functional independently, sufficient water must be present throughout the year to favor wetland plants and animals, which thrive in wet environments but are unlikely to outcompete invasives or other species in drier regimes. We foresee a continued interest in wetland restoration in Massachusetts and predict that measurable metrics to assess the success of such restoration efforts are desired. To that end, we propose developing a series of tools to measure soil moisture and subsurface thermal regimes to monitor change over time.

Interest Area: Environmental Conservation

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