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NIFA Planned Research Initiatives


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

Department of Project: Cranberry Station

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

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

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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

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

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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

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.
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.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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

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.

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

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of 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.


Department of Project: Department of Nutrition

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

Department of Project: 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.


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 Food Science

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.

Community & Economic Vitality

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.

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

Department of Project: Department of Resource Economics

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.

Environmental Conservation

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

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

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.

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.

 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.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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.

 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.

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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 (, 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.

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

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

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

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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


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

Department of Project: Department of 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.

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.

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

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.

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

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

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

There is widespread interest in greening municipalities and increasing urban tree canopy cover, largely through local community-based tree planting initiatives. It is generally estimated that newly-installed (i.e. planted) trees require at least 3 or more years before establishment, when they resume pre-transplant growth rates. Most trees installed in the urban environment are dug from the nursery field with a spade, and wrapped in burlap and a metal basket ('balled and burlap' or 'B&B'). There is interest, however, by shade tree committee members and professional urban foresters alike, in planting trees grown using other easier-to-plant systems, including a variety of container-grown (CG, IGF) and bare-root (BR) tree production methods. Trees grown from these production systems, however, must have the potential to grow long-term and reach maturity to offer the numerous values associated with urban trees that include a variety of aesthetic, social, and environmental benefits. This may be
a challenge, since urban environments often present very difficult growing conditions that habitually thwart tree growth and survival. Though advances in understanding have been made, empirical data to describe the survival and growth of such trees remains limited, with the preponderance of research considering trees growing in agricultural plots, rather than in urban settings. Since budget constraints are routinely identified as a key limiting factor relative to urban forest management practices, there is also a need for further information concerning the longer-term costs associated with planting and maintaining urban trees. Collecting growth and maintenance cost data on established urban oak specimens in Amherst, MA, produced using various nursery systems will 1) add to the overall base of  knowledge concerning urban tree growth and survival 2) enable the quantification and further understanding of the relationship of urban tree growth/survival and nursery production system 3) Enable the quantification and further understanding of the long-term costs associated with planting and maintaining urban trees. The long-term goal of this work is to gather local, empirical data that will help urban forest practitioners consider the appropriate (i.e. most cost-effective, best-performing) nursery production system, when selecting trees for urban planting in Massachusetts communities.The goals are to add to the overall base of knowledge concerning urban tree growth and survival. This would consist of annually capturing the aforementioned factors relative to annual measurement of tree growth Also to add to the overall base of knowledge concerning the longer-term costs associated with planting trees. This would consist of annually capturing cost factors relative to tree maintenance after the standard 3-year establishment period. Third would be to enable the further understanding (i.e. quantification) of the relationship of urban tree growth/survival and nursery production system. Data collected would be compared to tree production system to determine if a correlation exists between factors like tree growth, longevity, mortality and nursery production system.


Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

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

Department of Project: Department of Biology

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

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Plant seed oils have tremendous potential as environmentally, economically and technologically feasible replacements for petroleum, but the relatively low oil yields from existing crops limits the commercial viability of seed oil based biofuels.

Therefore, a primary issue of concern with biofuels and bio-products is the ability to produce enough  feedstock oils without displacing food crops. A second major concern is that environmental stresses such as drought, salinity, heat, and exposure to toxic metals adversely affect the growth and productivity of crop plants and thus are serious threats to crop production for food as well as biofuels. Additionally, increase oil contents and composition of fatty acids in edible oil not only improve the food security but will also improve the health of millions of people globally. Our proposed study addresses these fundamental concerns with research to enable the growth of high yield biofuel crops on contaminated and marginal lands without displacing food crop production. Molecular and biochemical approaches are proposed for improving the tolerance of plants to multiple abiotic and oxidative stresses, which will enable biofuel crops to grow on marginal and nutrient poor lands.

During this project, we will identify the key bottlenecks and rate limiting steps in the pathways for Triacylglycerol biosynthesis and storage in seeds. Further we will engineer Camelina sativa, brassica juncea and other related oilseeds crops for higher oil and seeds yields using the candidate genes. Additionally, we will develop "climate-resilient oil seeds crops" by combining enhanced oil and seed yield traits with traits imparting abiotic stresses tolerance in oil seed crops for enabling these crops to grow on nutrient poor marginal lands under changing climate.

We expect to be able to identify key genes/gene networks that limits the accumulation of lipids in seeds using transcriptomic, genomics and metabolomic approaches and  expect to produce genetically engineered oil seed crops with increased oil and seed yield.

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

Department of Project: Department of Microbiology

Although considerable research has been performed focused on the conversion of biomass to useful products, to date we still have no functional bio-refineries in the US or globally. One of the key problems in the conversion of biomass is known as the "lignin recalcitrance barrier". Lignin is a tough "plastic material" produced by plants that, at the molecular level, coats the "cellulosic" components of biomass that are used to produce most bio-based products and biofuels. Currently some very harsh chemical and heat pre-treatment systems that release cellulosic components from the surrounding lignin barrier are used in pilot scale research for most bio-refineries. To date however, these have been shown to be so harsh that they either damage the cellulose components, they are so polluting that they generate problematic or hazardous wastes, or they simply are so expensive that they cannot be used practically. What our research focuses on is harnessing and utilizing the CMF system that was developed millions of years ago by fungal organisms (a system that has largely been ignored by most scientists interested in biomass conversion). We hope that by harnessing the system that these unique "brown rot" fungi have evolved over the millennia that we can mimic and apply their chemistries to produce biorefinery systems that are more effective, and in particular that are highly energy efficient, cost efficient, safe and non-polluting.