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Department of Biology

Telling Pests from Non-pests: Species Delimitation in Highly Polyphagous and Abundant Armored Scale Insect Species Complexes

Armored scale insects (Hemiptera: Diaspididae) include many destructive pests of orchard crops, forestry, horticulture, and agriculture (Kennett et al., 1990), costing an estimated two billion dollars per year in the US (Miller & Davidson, 2005). They also have an extraordinary tendency to be invasive. As of 2005, the US had 132 species of diaspidids introduced from other countries (Miller et al., 2005), comprising fully 40% of the known US armored scale insect fauna. Of these, 85 (64%) were considered pests.

Gene Discovery for Improved Iron Nutrition in Maize

The micronutrient iron (Fe) is essential for photosynthesis, respiration, and many other processes, but Fe is only sparingly soluble in aqueous solution, making adequate acquisition by plants a serious challenge. Fe is a limiting factor for plant growth on approximately 30% of the world's arable lands. Furthermore, iron is highly reactive and, if over-accumulated, can cause cellular damage.

Harnessing Chemical Ecology to Address Agricultural Pest and Pollinator Priorities

Many bee pollinators are in decline, and exposure to diseases has been implicated as one of the potential causes Novel work in my lab found that consuming sunflower pollen dramatically reduced bumble bee infection by a gut pathogen. These are exciting results, but at this point we have established this effect only in the lab, with a single sunflower variety, one bumble bee species, and one pathogen species.

Programmed Cell Death in Grass Flower Development and Evolution Leveraging Basic Research into Rational Crop Design

This proposal is about programmed cell death and sex determination in maize and the grass family. Programmed cell death is best defined as genetically encoded, actively controlled cellular suicide. Programmed cell death is of fundamental importance in plant development. For example, xylem cells undergo programmed cell death and create an interconnected network of hollow tubes essential for water transport.

Harnessing Natural Variation in the Crop Model Grass Brachypodium Distachyon to Elucidate Microbial Associations that Improve Plant Growth

Current agricultural practices on available arable land will not meet the nutritional needs of a population that will reach nine billion people by the middle of this century (Ray et al. 2013). In parallel, climate change will increase extreme weather events, including drought (Dai, 2011, Trenberth et al., 2014), and continued urbanization of farmland is eliminating arable land (Song et al. 2015). There is a clear need for sustainable agricultural innovations that can increase yields and provide food security without incurring environmental degradation.

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