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Research Projects

Environmental Conservation

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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. Substrate components 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.

Energy

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.

Department of Project: Microbiology Dept.

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.

Department of Project: Resource Economics Dept.

Residential solar power is an important technological innovation that holds promise for a cleaner energy future. Out of 2.5 million households in the state of Massachusetts, those who installed solar photovoltaic(PV) systems grew from a mere 14 households to 60,465 households between 2010-2017. Between 2015-2017, the residential installations are growing at an even higher rate of 50% (Data source: Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources). It is crucial to understand what factors are determining the household decisions in the process of adopting the solar PV system.

Water

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

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.

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.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

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. Substrate components 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.

Food Science

Department of Project: Food Science Dept.

The incidence and prevalence of many chronic diseases are dramatically increasing in the United States and other countries, making these disorders a serious health problem. It is of practical importance to better understand the roles of food-derived bioactive compounds in development of these chronic diseases, in order to provide optimized dietary recommendations or guidelines, and/or develop safe and effective strategies for disease prevention. In this project, we will focus on two major areas: (1) to better understand the effects and mechanisms of food bioactives on development of chronic diseases such a inflammation, aging, and energy metabolism, and (2) to further understand the factors contributing to the poor bioavailability of food bioactives and develop novel strategies to enhance their metabolic stabilities and health-promoting effects. Together, these efforts will provide the fundamental knowledge which is critical to develop safe and effective diet-based strategies for disease prevention, resulting in significant and positive impact for public health.

Department of Project: Food Science Dept.

The results of this project will directly impact industries that handle foods most commonly implicated in foodborne disease outbreaks, including low-moisture foods (especially spices, nuts, and dried fruits); fresh, minimally, and shelf-stable processed produce; dairy; fresh and further processed seafood, meat, and poultry products (including fully cooked and ready-to-eat products subject to post-process contamination), as well as other multi-component and processed foods. Moreover, the threats and specific needs for food safety in the food industry are constantly evolving and require continued risk-based solutions in the face of these changes. Therefore, the project proposes risk-based solutions for the effective control of foodborne pathogens across food commodities in the U.S.

Small dairy farms face particular challenges as costs of production often exceed the set federal price for fluid milk. However, consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium for local dairy products, providing emerging market opportunities for small dairy farms. In Massachusetts, a significant barrier for dairy farmers hoping to capture this premium is lack of access to scale-appropriate fluid milk processing facilities. This project engagesstakeholders to identify operational feasibility, market potential, and barriers to access institutionalmarkets. Farmers will be engaged to assess the interest and potential supply of fluid milk to the processing facility. Activities including grant workshops and energy efficiency education will assist dairy farmers with maximizing their energy savings, allowing them to lower costs of production. Project activities will engage dairy farmers, academic researchers, agricultural trade and marketing organizations, farmer-owned cooperatives, and institutional buyers.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

House flies are the major vector of numerous food pathogens (e.g., Escherichia coli). It has been suggested that the fly crop is the major reservoir for the pathogen and also that this is where horizontal transmission of antibiotic resistance occurs. The salivary glands of most flies involved in vectoring pathogens are also involved in pathogen transmission and their nutrient and pathogen uptake while feeding. This research focuses on two essential organ systems of house flies, in order to explore non-traditional control strategies for the insects. Control of flies is thought to have a potential strong impact on transmission of food pathogens.

Department of Project: Food Science Dept.

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

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

Department of Project: Food Science Dept.

Food safety is very much an agricultural issue.
This multi-researcher project will focus on four critical aspects of food safety: understanding the scope of food safety problems, characterizing the scientific basis of pathogenic organisms' survival, development of methodology for detection, and translating knowledge through food safety extension research and activates. Together these activities will contribute to the long term goal of reducing the overall risk of foodborne illness.

Department of Project: Food Science Dept.

The short-term goal of this project is to increase the understanding and mitigating risk factors associated with cleaning,sanitation, cross contamination, detection, and worker behaviors in food production. The long-term goal of this work will help to reduce the overall risk of foodborne illness.

• Objective 1: Understanding of the parameters needed for effective delivery of natural food-grade antimicrobials for use infoods and food processing environments

• Objective 2: Identifying the genetic determinants of Listeria monocytogenes persistence in the food processing environment using genome-wide association (GWA) analysis.

• Objective 3: Mitigating and controlling viral risks to food safety and food production.

• Objectives 4: Conduct applied research relevant to food safety, design supports for adopting practices that will reduce the overall risk of foodborne illness, increase food safety knowledge of producers and processors, and increase access to local and national wholesale markets.

Value-added Food

Small dairy farms face particular challenges as costs of production often exceed the set federal price for fluid milk. However, consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium for local dairy products, providing emerging market opportunities for small dairy farms. In Massachusetts, a significant barrier for dairy farmers hoping to capture this premium is lack of access to scale-appropriate fluid milk processing facilities. This project engagesstakeholders to identify operational feasibility, market potential, and barriers to access institutionalmarkets. Farmers will be engaged to assess the interest and potential supply of fluid milk to the processing facility. Activities including grant workshops and energy efficiency education will assist dairy farmers with maximizing their energy savings, allowing them to lower costs of production. Project activities will engage dairy farmers, academic researchers, agricultural trade and marketing organizations, farmer-owned cooperatives, and institutional buyers.

Climate Change

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: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Increasing environmental stresses make crops ever more succeptible to the impact of plant viruses. Plant viruses affect plant functioning and, specifically, the root system. For example, virus infected cover crops may hamper root growth and activity. This may influence the effect of cover crops on the cycling of carbon and other nutrients in soils. Consequently, virus infections may undermine the beneficial use of cover crops to improve soil health, with unclear consequences for soil carbon storage, greenhouse gas emissions, and nutrient status. This project therefore tests how plant virus infection influences the impact of cover crops on soil carbon and nutrient cycling.

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.

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