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Research Projects

Agriculture

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.

Department of Project: 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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Better knowledge of how to beneficially use residuals and reclaimed water is essential for environmental protection, soil quality, crop yield, food safety and human health. From this project, we will generate new and useful information on beneficial use residuals and reclaimed water. We will examine the fate, processes and bioavailability of various contaminants (including antibiotics, nanoparticles, nanoplastics) in soils. Analytical methods for nanoparticles and microplastics will be developed, and these methods are expected to be used widely by students, scientists and professionals. In addition, we will modify biochars to make functional biochars to be used in soil improvement and remediation. Furthermore, we will provide the fundamental and useful data for developing nano-enabled technology for sustainable agricultural production.

 

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

It is known that legumes generally respond to existing N in the soil. When soil N is relatively high, legumes prefer to use soil N rather than to engage in symbiosis with rhizobia. However, the ecophysiological responses of legumes to existing soil-N level and the changing climate - including temperature changes and precipitation dynamics impact rhizobia nodulation - have not been studied in actual field conditions. This study seeks to understand these responses in order to improve N management, maximize the benefits of legumes, reduce off-farm inputs, and enhance soil health. Moreover, growth and N accumulation of legumes is heavily dependent upon the nitrogen-fixing performance of the microbial partner recruited by the host legume. Native rhizobia strains in the Northeast that associate with faba bean (Vicia faba) and sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), two multi- purpose legumes newly introduced by the current project team to the area, have not been identified. In this project, native strains will be recovered from nodules, genetically sequenced, and their performance will be compared with elite strains maintained at USDA.
 

This project investigates new sustainable markets for New England seafood. Climate change challenges the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of New England's seafood industry. A warming Gulf of Maine compounds the complex puzzle of ecosystems, fish population dynamics, and catch limits for specific fisheries. Cascading effects on fishermen, seafood processors, markets, and restaurants provide a network of challenges that are difficult to disentangle. This multifaceted challenge highlights the need for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research to build sustainable new markets for seafood. This proposal brings together a team with diverse expertise in ecology, climate change adaptation, economics, stakeholder engagement and product development. We aim to support the fishing industry by investigating consumers’ seafood choices, sustainable fishing practices, and seafood products that contain lesser known yet abundant species.   

The work will obtain new data to support ongoing pilot-work and support future proposals. Pilot data include:

  1. Fisherman’s perspectives on local and underutilized fish species and preservation methods,
  2. Consumer acceptability of new artisanal preserved fish products. Seed grant funds will be used to execute semi-structured interviews with New England fisherman, an online consumer survey, and a consumer sensory experiment. These funds will support the collaborative relationship between team members, building an interdisciplinary working group to pursue larger research funds.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

Water is an increasingly scarce resource for agriculture thus engineering plants that use water efficiently is a primary goal for scientists. A recent approach in achieving water-efficient crops is to breed or engineer plants that can rapidly open and close their stomata in changing environments (Lawson and Blatt 2014, Raven 2014). During the day, plants may become shaded or enjoy a sudden but transient increase in sunlight as sun angles change (or are reflected) or as clouds and/or other obstacles block the sun. Plants that are shaded cannot photosynthesize; if the stomata are open in the shade, water is being lost while no carbon assimilation is taking place. Reciprocally, a transient increase in sunlight may warrant rapid stomatal opening, so extra energy can be assimilated into carbon. This is apt to happen many times a day, on different regions of the plant. Therefore, stomata that open quickly during high light or close quickly during low light will assimilate more carbon while losing less water.
Interestingly, nature has already engineered rapid stomata. Within the plant family, grass stomata have a unique morphology. In grasses, guard cells are dumbbell-shaped rather than the more common kidney-shape. The pair of guard cells are laterally flanked by a pair of subsidiary cells, or helper cell, which are also uniquely shaped (Figure 1C; Gray et al., 2020). Grass stomata open and close much faster than stomata from a variety of other species (Johnsson et al. 1976, Grantz and Assmann 1991, Franks and Farquhar 2007). It is thought that both the shape of the guard cells, and the presence of the subsidiary cells contribute to this rapid opening and closing (Franks and Farquhar 2007; Gray et al., 2020; Raissig et al., 2017), however since the mechanism of rapid stomatal opening and closing in grasses is not well understood, this is yet unproven. Maize (corn) plants are members of the grass family. Maize has many features that make it amenable to study include: well-established genetics including characterized "diversity panels" of inbred lines, fully sequenced genomes from multiple inbred lines and reverse genetic collections; ability to make transgenic plants; and large cells amenable to microscopy. Therefore, experiments in maize are well poised to investigate grass stomatal formation and function. While the unique shape of
grass guard cells likely contributes to their function, this proposal will focus on subsidiary cells. Specifically, we will determine the genes required to form subsidiary cells and genes unique in mature functioning subsidiary cells.

 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: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Non-point source pollution including excess nutrients, organic particles, fecal coliform bacteria, and additional pathogens is considered high risk at many animal operations, especially equine facilities. A common issue in these animal facilities is overgrazing which is the main cause of mud, resulting in serious threats to the environment as well as to animals and humans.  In addition, most equine facilities are regularly faced with a major challenge related to the large amount of manure produced by animals at the facility. Some of the challenges related to manure include 1) lack of manure storage 2) close proximity of manure pile(s) to nearby water bodies 3) animals' direct access to streams and other bodies of water, 4) undesirable characteristics of horse manure due to exceptionally high C:N ratio which makes the waste unusable for agriculture uses. In Massachusetts, there are estimated to be over 26,000 domesticated horses within the state. There are roughly 50,000 acres of land being used in MA for equine operations, therefore, there are about two horses for every acre of dedicated land- which is one fourth of the current recommended practice. It is estimated on average one 1,000 lb. horse will produce approximately 9 tons of manure. When including bedding, stall waste could be as much as 12 tons per horse per year. Managing this waste properly is a growing challenge for equine facilities, especially at places where land availability is limited, and the horses are kept in small acreage and stalls. Runoff from the stables to high traffic areas, manure piles, and unmanaged and overgrazed pastures are the main contributing factors to environmental degradation. Many horse owners do not have enough resources and background to make significant changes in their current practices including pasture, mud, and nutrient management. This provides opportunity for conducting research on various aspects of pasture management, manure management and provides information to remediate the negative impacts of equines on the environment.

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 US acreage and the two largest cranberry handler companies are located in Massachusetts. Threats to the sustainability of cranberry production in MA and elsewhere in the US come from many sources: consumer demands for sustainable but inexpensive products, commodity pricing in an industry that is currently over-supplied with juice concentrate, changes to industry (handler) fruit quality standards, rising costs for energy and pest management products, climate change, and changing standards in pesticide use to accommodate global marketing. 

The majority of cranberry acreage in MA is still under old cultivars with low productivity and poor disease resistance and MA does not have a breeding program for new cultivars. Growers in MA are interested in bringing in new hybrid cultivars from breeding programs in New Jersey and Wisconsin. However, without proper cultivar evaluation under MA growing conditions, growers are hesitant to do so because of the significant financial risk.  This project will evaluate new hybrid cultivars under MA growing conditions and provide growers with reliable data to use in decision making when considering bog renovation.

 

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

The diverticulated crop organ of the common house fly, which is the major insect vector of numerous human food pathogens (e.g., Escherichia coli) is the major reservoir or storage area for this, and other, important food pathogens. It has also been demonstrated that this is where horizontal transmission of antibiotic resistance to E. coli occurs. Thus, the diverticulated crop organ is an essential component in the transmission cycle between pathogens and human foods/food crops. At the same time, the salivary glands of house fly are directly involved in vectoring pathogens and, are intimately involved in pathogen transmission. Almost nothing is known about the physiological factors involved in the regulation of both crop filling and emptying of the adult house fly. Even more concerning is that we know even less about the effect of various pathogens, either food pathogens or pathogens of the house fly vector, on salivary gland regulation. What effect does the salivary gland hypertrophy virus have on normal crop organ function? A better understanding of how these two essential organ systems are regulated, will give researchers a better picture of how to use this information to explore novel, non-chemical control strategies that can be directed at interfering with the normal regulation of these two organ systems. Ultimately, non-traditional control strategies will be developed that rely on interfering with the function of these two organ systems, both of which are essential to the fly. It is the objective of this project to develop non-traditional control strategies, thus reducing fly resistance to insecticides. Thus, by compromised longevity of the vector, pathogen vectoring, and/or reproductive development of the flies can be interfered with resulting in death, abnormal flight ability, and or reduced fecundity.

Department of Project: 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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

In Massachusetts, several invasive insect species are either already affecting or pose a serious threat to the specialty crop industry. Stakeholders have voiced the need to address the most destructive invasive insects threatening their crops. In recent years, there has been interest in reduced-risk materials with insecticidal properties for the invasive pest spotted wing Drosophila (SWD), a vinegar fly that attacks berries and other soft-skinned fruits such as peach and cherry. Of particular interest are low-cost materials that could be used as attractants in traps or as insecticidal food-based baits, as opposed to broad-spectrum insecticides applied to the foliage against some pests. In this project, we will determine whether materials that are commonly available in households can be used to attract adult SWD to traps. Efforts will be made to develop an inexpensive insecticidal bait. The response of female codling moth and Oriental fruit moth, two important pests of apple, pear, and related crops, to lures that are based on plant material will be quantified under laboratory and field conditions. Our ultimate goal is to develop a food bait for SWD that is inexpensive and effective. This project also seeks to improve the effectiveness of monitoring systems for codling moth and Oriental fruit moth. If successful, results may lead to the development of more effective monitoring systems for these two moth pest species.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

Pollination is critical for yield of many crops, but many pollinator species are in decline due to a variety of stressors including pathogens, pesticides, and insufficient food resources. Our work will ask how flowering plants and land use around farms affects the number of bee individuals and species at farms, and how effective bees are at pollinating sunflower crops. We will also determine how diet and floral resources affect bee health and ability to resist disease. Finally, many crops have seeds that are treated with pesticides to improve growth, but these pesticides can be incorporated into pollen and affect bees. We will ask how the amount of water a plant receives affects the concentration of pesticides in pollen, and the consequences for bees. Taken together, this work represents a comprehensive approach to understand some of the factors involved in pollinator decline.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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. Soil microbes are known to form associations with plants and affect plant health, and in recent years, interest has grown in exploiting the beneficial associations that plants establish with microbes. The plant microbiome abounds with plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) that can help plants acquire more nutrients from the soil and tolerate stressors like drought (Barnawal et al. 2013, Bresson et al. 2014). PGPR can also control plant pathogens (Chowdhury et al. 2013), promote beneficial mycorrhizal colonization (Labbe et al. 2014), and produce potentially valuable secondary metabolites (Raaijmakers et al. 2012). Finding ways to harness these beneficial microbes to improve crop growth and yield has the potential to ameliorate the challenges imposed by the world's growing population and environmental degradation.

 

Department of Project: Department of Biology

This proposal describes a next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based approach to identify genes that control unisexual flower development in Zea mays (maize). Maize develops separate male flowers in the tassel and female flowers in the ear (Klein etal., 2018). The development of unisexual flowers is important for hybrid crop production - separate tassel and ear flowers allow humans to very easily make controlled crosses (Phillips, 2010).  Many cereal crops related to maize, like rice and wheat, have unisexual flowers, hampering hybrid seed production (Kellogg, 2015). In addition, the same process that leads to the development of maize flowers in the tassel - carpel suppression - also occurs in half of all ear flowers, effectively halving the number of seeds a maize ear could produce (Cheng et al., 1983).  Thus, modifying the genes that control carpel suppression using CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering could allow crop engineers to generate unisexual flowers in other grass crops, and to improve yield in maize (Gao, 2018).

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: Department of Microbiology

Three temperate forage grass species (Lolium perrene, Festuca arundinacea, and Dactylis glomerata) will be grown in 6x10 ft plots under field conditions over the summer at the University of Massachusetts Crop and Animal Research and Education Farm in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Each species will be grown in 10 replicates for a total of 30 plots. Five replicates of eachs pecies will be treated as well-watered controls and their soil moisture maintained above 25%, while the other five replicates will remain under a water-reduced treatment, receiving no rain or supplemental water. Water reduction will be imposed through the use of rain-out shelters. The shelters will have sides that could roll up and down in order to maintain ambient temperature and allow maximum air flow through the plots on dry days, but will be rolled down on rainy days to keep the water out. Water-reduction conditions will last for 10 weeks, after which rain shelters will be removed and rewatering begins over a period of three weeks in order to stepwise return soil moisture content to above 25%.

Microbial community composition: Throughout the water reduction period, bacterial communities will be sampled once a week for a total of 10 samples and an additional three times during the recovery period. Several mature but not senescent leaves will be collected from each plot for DNA extraction and bacterial cell counts in order to capture a representative community of the whole plot. Samples will be prepared for 16S rRNA sequencing using the Illumina MiSeq platform in two separate pools.  Plant health measurements: To understand how bacterial communities change in relation to changes in the plant, several plant health measurements will be taken. Leaf relative water content, electrolyte leakage, chlorophyll, and soil moisture will be measured every week. Additionally, non-destructive biomass measurements will be taken periodically by measuring leaf height and plot coverage. Plot coverage will be estimated using an elevated quadrat device. At the end of the water reduction period, plots will be divided in half and destructive biomass sampling of one half will provide above ground fresh weight and dry weight measurements. Additionally, roots will be sampled in 15 cm increments to a depth of 60 cm. After soil removal roots will be dried and dry mass measured. 

Nitrogen fixation rates by leaf microbes: Samples will be collected during field studies in the summer and used to quantify potential and actualized nitrogen fixation in the phyllosphere. Additional questions will be focused on understanding how phyllosphere BNF is impacted by plant host species, temporal dynamics, drought, and recovery. To determine the rate of BNF,stable isotope probing will be conducted at 6 different time points. Three samples will be taken during the drought period (week6, 7, 10) and three each week during recovery. Rate of nitrogen fixation will be determined by measuring incorporation of thestable isotope 15N into the leaf tissue. Leaf cuts of known area will be incubated in an artificial atmosphere containing 80% 15N and 20% O2 for 48 hours under ambient light and temperature. Corresponding control samples will be incubated under normal atmosphere to determine natural 15N abundance. After incubation, samples will be dried at 70°C, weighed, finely ground, and 1-2 mg of plant powder will be weighed in tin capsules and sent to a collaborator at the University of Vienna to determine 15N incorporation using a continuous-flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer.  Nitrogen fixation rates can then be determined using the following equation where Nleaf is foliar N concentration, Mr is molecular weight of 15N, and t is incubation time:N2-Fix = Nleaf x (at%15Nsample - at%15Ncontrol)/100 x 103/Mr/tBacterial DNA samples corresponding to each timepoint will be taken to determine the absolute abundance of nitrogen fixing bacteria at each time point as well as to determine their taxonomic identity. The absolute quantity of nitrogen fixing bacteria per leaf area for each of the grass species and treatments will also be determined for the same time points using qPCR of the nifH gene. Next, the rate of nitrogen fixation per nifH copy number will be determined for each grass species under normal and water-stressed conditions. By comparing the three grass host species we will gain a better understanding of how phyllosphere BNF inputs are impacted by plant host species. By directly comparing rates under normal and stressed conditions we will understand how BNF will be influenced in the future by climate stress. Identification of nitrogen fixing members of the bacterial community will be achieved by sequencing the phylogenetic marker genes nifH using the Illumia MiSeq platform. nifH identity,diversity, and richness will be added to the models to better understand biological nitrogen fixation in the phyllosphere.

During estrus, mares can behave in a manner that can make handling, riding, training, or competing these horses difficult. Current methods to suppress estrus behavior during the breeding season, when most horse competition takes place, include: pharmacological treatments; glass marbles; and negative reinforcement. This work will develop strategies to control estrus behaviour without the need for pharmacological treatments or negative reinforcement.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

The project will employ established field and laboratory methods to measure litter decomposition, soil organic matter turnover, and nitrogen transformations. These methods could include isotope labeling and recovery, litter decomposition, quantifying soil organic matter, gross nitrification and nitrogen mineralization, potential net nitrification and net nitrogen mineralization, nitrous oxide production, carbon mineralization, and quantifying microbial biomass. These measurements are often collected from both field equipment and laboratory microcosms. The results are analyzed using a variety of tools. Generally, graphing tools are first used to examine trends in the data. The data will then be statistically analyzed using linear mixed models and, potentially, model selection. The statistical output is combined with graphic trends and site background information to interpret data and produce study outcomes. This study will incorporate formal education programs. The research project will be the basis from which to train a graduate student on methods in soil biogeochemistry and incorporation of applied research into graduate study. The field sites and methods will be incorporated into formal laboratory instruction for undergraduates. Involving undergraduates provides both inclusion in primary research and evidence of how research outcomes can be incorporated by farmers. 

Plant diseases cause crop loss, reduce food production and threaten global food security (Savary et al., 2012). Focusing on two distinct pathosystems that cause Fusarium vascular wilts and the Basil downy mildew (BDM), respectively, we propose to establish a pipeline to dissect host-pathogen interactions and provide novel means to develop disease resistant cultivars in order to manage plant diseases that threaten food security.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of 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.

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.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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.

Department of Project: 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.

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Pathogens including viruses are known to be major contributors in the decline of honeybee colonies, yet we are only now beginning to understand the 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

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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. About one new invasive diaspidid species is detected in the US every year (Miller et al., 2005). Here in Massachusetts, multiple species of armored scale insects are emerging as serious pests of cranberries (Averill & Sylvia, 2017). One specific target of this investigation will be the scale insect that have recently emerged as a threat to Massachusetts cranberry. Some armored scale insect pest species have been recorded from an enormous range of hosts. For instance there are 23 armored scale insect species that have each been found on over 50 different host plant families -- remarkable examples of extreme generalism (García Morales et al., 2016). It has been suggested that these are not true generalist species but instead are clouds of similar-looking specialist species (Loxdale et al., 2011). The goal of this project is to assess species boundaries within wide-ranging extreme-generalist armored scale insect pest complexes, in particular including the Chrysomphalus dictyospermi/pinnulifer complex, the Hemiberlesia palmae/cyanophylli complex, and the Selenaspidus articulatus complex. Each of these includes at least one globally invasive species, and for each we already have extensive samples from multiple hosts within the native range. We will sequence a sample of each insect's genome and using modern analytical methods to distinguish the species. We will assess the geographic range and host range of each species, and assess which are pests, which are potential invasive pests, and which are non-pests. We will seek morphological diagnostic characters and describe the new species in cases when it is practical to do so. We w ll publish our results in the peer-reviewed literature and present them at national and international entomology conferences. 

Natural products have a long history of providing novel compounds either directly or as lead compounds for human therapeutics, nutrition and agricultural applications. Fungal diversity has evolved over 900 million years and concurrent with this evolution in diversification of the natural product chemistry resulting in an impressive array of compounds known as specialized metabolites. In the organisms, natural products have biological activity to enable adaptation of the organism to its' ecological niche, ranging from profound effects of hormones to sometimes only the subtle effects observed under specific environmental conditions mediated by more specialized metabolites. In agricultural systems fungal metabolites can cause detrimental effects and large losses to agricultural crop yields, at the same time because of their biological activity these specialized metabolites can be translated for use as human therapeutics1-3. A significant renewed interest in mining fungi (and plants) for specialized metabolites is the availability of massive sequencing data and their potential for widespread use in agriculture, industry and as pharmaceutical agents.
 

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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

The goal of the project is to improve irrigation and fertilization practices in ornamental plant production in order to improve production efficiency and to reduce the environmental impact of ornamental plant production by limiting nutrient laden runoff from nurseries and greenhouses. Improving production practices relies on a better understanding of plant water and fertilizer needs as well as assessment of improved application methods. To further improve practices the influence of different soilless media components will be assessed as these components vary in their ability to hold and retain water and nutrients. The use of water holding capacity improving additives such as hydrogels and surfactants will be assessed for use in production and interactions with fertilizers. Improving production practices helps growers to produce the best quality plant possible with the least added inputs in a more environmentally friendly manner.Through this research project a variety of ornamental plants will be grown to assess how production practices can be improved through a series of experiments examining irrigation methods and volume, fertilizer quantity, substrate additives, and substrate components. Plant water needs will be assessed to understand how much irrigation is needed to produce good quality plants.This will provide growers with ways of improving irrigation applications by grouping plants by water needs and reducing irrigation applications when possible. Plant fertilizer needs will be assessed in a similar manner. By reducing fertilizer applications the amount of nutrients in the nursery or greenhouse runoff will be reduced lessening the environmental impact. Substratecomponents and additives will be assessed to further the body of knowledge on their impact on production with an emphasis on their impact on water applications, retention, and leaching and fertilizer retention and uptake.

Disaster Preparedness

This project investigates new sustainable markets for New England seafood. Climate change challenges the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of New England's seafood industry. A warming Gulf of Maine compounds the complex puzzle of ecosystems, fish population dynamics, and catch limits for specific fisheries. Cascading effects on fishermen, seafood processors, markets, and restaurants provide a network of challenges that are difficult to disentangle. This multifaceted challenge highlights the need for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research to build sustainable new markets for seafood. This proposal brings together a team with diverse expertise in ecology, climate change adaptation, economics, stakeholder engagement and product development. We aim to support the fishing industry by investigating consumers’ seafood choices, sustainable fishing practices, and seafood products that contain lesser known yet abundant species.   

The work will obtain new data to support ongoing pilot-work and support future proposals. Pilot data include:

  1. Fisherman’s perspectives on local and underutilized fish species and preservation methods,
  2. Consumer acceptability of new artisanal preserved fish products. Seed grant funds will be used to execute semi-structured interviews with New England fisherman, an online consumer survey, and a consumer sensory experiment. These funds will support the collaborative relationship between team members, building an interdisciplinary working group to pursue larger research funds.

Nutrition

Department of Project: Department of 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.

 

Department of Project: Department of Nutrition

The objectives of this project are to:

(1) Analyze best practices that have proven effective at increasing individual, household, and community food and nutrition security and identify individual and systemic strategies for the development and dissemination of initiatives designed to improve food and nutrition security.

(2) Utilize food systems approaches to assess and address nutrition, health, and wellness challenges of vulnerable population groups (e.g., children, elderly, low income, immigrant, minority) with particular focus on food availability, appropriate policy systems and environmental changes that would increase positive food decision making and improve health outcomes.

Department of Project: Department of Nutrition

The proposed study aims to examine the nutritional health, food insecurity, and maternity care experiences of immigrant women in Massachusetts and in communities outside of the state. Through community engagement, interviews, and surveys of 10-15 immigrant women, as well as secondary data analysis of data on immigrant and refugee women in Massachusetts, our study hopes to demonstrate the importance of the migration experience, place of residence, and host communities in facilitating optimal health and nutrition outcomes for immigrant women and their families. We work with community partners and Extension Nutrition Education Program (NEP) staff to examine and interpret study findings. This process will increase engagement of our extension educators and community partners in research on their communities and facilitate an accurate interpretation of research findings. Our work is also important for generating ideas for innovative nutrition programming to meet community needs; developing and implementing training for NEP staff and educators; and for formulating policies that prioritize investments in nutrition, food security, and health infrastructure for communities in transition and immigrants in the U.S.

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.

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

The food industry is under transformation due to some important changes in consumer preferences. With a trend towards a healthier lifestyle, food quality, nutrition, and safety are increasingly important to consumers today. There is an increasing demand for more information about the nutritional content of food, for food considered healthy and health-enhancing. However, at the same time, obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise and so do health care costs as a result. There is significant interest in developing and implementing policies to address these problems and promote healthy eating. In this Hatch project, we examine the effects of two public policies aimed at improving consumer health outcomes.  More specifically, we propose estimating the welfare effects of a policy proposal that bans use of partially-hydrogenated oil in food products leading to a ban on trans fat. Partially hydrogenated oil as a source of trans fat, is a primary cause of deaths related to heart attack and obesity in the United States. However, use of partially-hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, even in small amounts, significantly decreases cost of production by providing longer storability and shelf stability. To evaluate welfare effects of this ban, taking into account the demand- and supply-side responses, we use the microwaveable popcorn market as a case study, use Nielsen retail scanner datasets, and estimate a consumer demand model for microwaveable popcorns. We recover consumer preferences as well as marginal cost of production. We propose estimating counterfactuals by allowing firms to endogenously choose prices as well as product portfolios. Using our model, we can simulate the expected product offerings in the market as well as the prices of those products, hence we can compute the total gain in welfare from both before and after the ban is imposed.

 

Department of Project: Department of 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.

Commercial Horticulture

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of 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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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.

Community & Economic Vitality

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

The food industry is being transformed by two important changes. It has recently been characterized by rising concentration, partly due to a number of large mergers since the beginning of the new millennium.[1]  In addition, the advent of the internet is affecting the source of advertising and the method of purchase for many food products. Firms in the industry must devise strategies to adapt to and capitalize on these changes that have the potential to affect market structure and performance. We propose research on the food industry with two related components that examine the effect of firms' strategies in pricing and advertising on market concentration and market performance.  The first component ("Concentration and Fragmentation in the Age of Digital Advertising") examines the effect of digital advertising on market concentration using beer sales data, which provides the advantage of observing two similar, but distinct markets - light and regular beers. The second component ("Market Reactions to Potential Entry") investigates the role of price variation in defending against market entry. For this component we use data on steak sauce sales. These data are particularly advantageous for this study because of the limited number of brands and the infrequent nature of consumer purchases in this market.

This project investigates new sustainable markets for New England seafood. Climate change challenges the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of New England's seafood industry. A warming Gulf of Maine compounds the complex puzzle of ecosystems, fish population dynamics, and catch limits for specific fisheries. Cascading effects on fishermen, seafood processors, markets, and restaurants provide a network of challenges that are difficult to disentangle. This multifaceted challenge highlights the need for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research to build sustainable new markets for seafood. This proposal brings together a team with diverse expertise in ecology, climate change adaptation, economics, stakeholder engagement and product development. We aim to support the fishing industry by investigating consumers’ seafood choices, sustainable fishing practices, and seafood products that contain lesser known yet abundant species.   

The work will obtain new data to support ongoing pilot-work and support future proposals. Pilot data include:

  1. Fisherman’s perspectives on local and underutilized fish species and preservation methods,
  2. Consumer acceptability of new artisanal preserved fish products. Seed grant funds will be used to execute semi-structured interviews with New England fisherman, an online consumer survey, and a consumer sensory experiment. These funds will support the collaborative relationship between team members, building an interdisciplinary working group to pursue larger research funds.

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

The food industry is under transformation due to some important changes in consumer preferences. With a trend towards a healthier lifestyle, food quality, nutrition, and safety are increasingly important to consumers today. There is an increasing demand for more information about the nutritional content of food, for food considered healthy and health-enhancing. However, at the same time, obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise and so do health care costs as a result. There is significant interest in developing and implementing policies to address these problems and promote healthy eating. In this Hatch project, we examine the effects of two public policies aimed at improving consumer health outcomes.  More specifically, we propose estimating the welfare effects of a policy proposal that bans use of partially-hydrogenated oil in food products leading to a ban on trans fat. Partially hydrogenated oil as a source of trans fat, is a primary cause of deaths related to heart attack and obesity in the United States. However, use of partially-hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, even in small amounts, significantly decreases cost of production by providing longer storability and shelf stability. To evaluate welfare effects of this ban, taking into account the demand- and supply-side responses, we use the microwaveable popcorn market as a case study, use Nielsen retail scanner datasets, and estimate a consumer demand model for microwaveable popcorns. We recover consumer preferences as well as marginal cost of production. We propose estimating counterfactuals by allowing firms to endogenously choose prices as well as product portfolios. Using our model, we can simulate the expected product offerings in the market as well as the prices of those products, hence we can compute the total gain in welfare from both before and after the ban is imposed.

 

This research considers ways that "social infrastructure" and "green infrastructure" can mitigate the impact of climate change and severe climate emergencies on vulnerable populations in Springfield, Massachusetts and similar cities. While there is ample research on ways to protect vulnerable populations (elderly, low-income, and minority populations) from climate change, very little research addresses the role that social infrastructure and green infrastructure can play. Even less research addresses this situation as it pertains to cities like Springfield, the small to mid-sized former manufacturing centers that comprise the country's "legacy cities," commonly known in Massachusetts as "Gateway Cities.". Springfield and other similar cities tend to have particular challenges that larger, richer cities do not experience to the same degree. Mid-sized legacy cities have relatively weak economies and have higher proportions of vulnerable residents (especially poor and elderly). With limited budgets, many of these cities have trouble meeting basic needs and lack the resources to invest in neighborhood parks and community infrastructure. Through community engagement, interviews, and surveys of neighborhood residents, our study may help demonstrate the importance of investing in these types of infrastructure. Our work may also be an important incentive for cities to implement capital projects or policies that give priority to investments in social and green infrastructure.
 

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.

Environmental Conservation

As Massachusetts faces increasing pressure from population expansion, along with increasing challenges due to climate change, we seek a solution to the growing demand in housing that supports the local timber industry and rural economies and also creates an opportunity to store more carbon both in our buildings and across our regional forested landscape. Recent advances in timber technology have produced promising new methods for meeting some of the demand for building materials, as well as the need to store carbon.

Department of Project: Department of Geosciences

Reliable, sustainable sources of clean water are increasingly hard to come by. But did you know that there are a lot of additional benefits from cultivating and protecting freshwater wetlands atthe source of some of these waters? Wetland ecosystem services include, but are not limited to, providing 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. 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 forsee a continued interest in wetland restoration in Massachusetts and predict that measurable metrics to assess the success of such restoration efforts are desired. Two recent developments support this: first, Massachusetts DER created a new Cranberry Bog Program in 2018 to facilitate exactly these types of restorations, and second, Living Observatory (LO) has begun a learning collaborative of scientists, artists, and wetland restoration practitioners to document the science and best practices of freshwater wetland restoration projects. Building on recent projects and successes, we propose to identify and establish a comprehensive catalog of metrics for measuring the success of freshwater wetlands that have been restored. We will continue our observations of soil moisture and subsurface thermal regimes, and add additional observations of weather and climate variables, phenological change, subsurface water levels, water chemistry, and microclimates and topographic influences of microtopography and other restoration practices.

Regeneration is the future of Massachusetts forests. It is critical for the conservation of the State's forestlands and for the continued provisioning of the myriad ecosystem services they provide (sustainable timber and wood products, carbon storage,wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, biodiversity, recreational opportunity, and aesthetic/intrinsic value). Global change related factors including novel climatic conditions, invasive plants, deer overpopulation, and habitat fragmentation threaten current and future forest regeneration within Massachusetts. These threats come at a critical time when we are already observing increased mortality of economically and ecologically important tree species across the State at the hands of non-native pests and pathogens. Ensuring successful regeneration of desired tree species and natural communities within these damaged forests is paramount to the continued health, vigor, and viability of the State's forest resources.Adaptive forest management may be used to overcome contemporary regeneration challenges, ensuring the conservation of healthy and valuable forest ecosystems. However, we currently lack sufficient regeneration data and scientific understanding of the various factors impacting regeneration to develop and test meaningful adaptive management strategies.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Bursaphelenchus antoniae, a species of nematode associated with pine weevils and maritime pine, was first described in 2006 in Leiria, north-western Portugal. The nematode has evolved with the pine weevil, and the pine weevil carries the nematode to dead and dying trees where the weevil lays its eggs. During egg laying, the nematode leaves the weevil and invades the tree where it feeds on fungi that have colonized the tree internally. Inoculations in Portugal with B. antoniae showed that this nematode was not pathogenic to maritime pine, a pine native to Portugal. Bursaphelenchus antoniae was discovered during surveys for Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, the pinewood nematode. Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, a native of North America was recently introduced into Portugal where it has devastated forests of maritime pine.
Bursaphelenchus antoniae was just discovered in the United States (Massachusetts) from white pine, and if this nematode was recently introduced into North America, our pines could be susceptible hosts. We propose to inoculate white pine, red pine, pitch pine and scots pine with B. antoniae to determine if it is pathogenic to any of these species. We include the non-native scots pine because it is very susceptible to B. xylophilus We are currently raising B. antoniae on fungal cultures in the laboratory.  Terminal shoots will be cut from 2 to 3-year-old potted trees and the nematodes pipetted onto the cut surface. The pathogenicity trial will be carried out twice. Positive results (pine wilt) will be retested on field grown trees. We will also trap pine weevils in various locations in southern New England and examine them for B. antoniae and other species of Bursaphelenchus, and this will help us understand the extent of distribution of the nematode. Forest service entomologists will initially help with collections and identifications.

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