News & Announcements

Maple syrup jars

As maple sugaring season approaches, plant ecologist Kristina Stinson recently received a two-year, $149,800 grant to study the impact of climate change on the quantity and quality of sugar maple sap, including its chemical composition, and of sap from red maples, a species less sensitive to climate change.

UMass students visit Cuban farms and markets with PB faculty member Frank Mangan during winter session. 

Ox power has yet to be replaced by fossil fuels in most of Cuba

Just one of the surprises for five UMass students who visited Cuba with Dr. Frank Mangan in January for a winter session course on food systems was learning that 80 percent of farm and agricultural work handled by tractors and other motorized equipment in the United States is done by teams of oxen in Cuba. Read more

Muvari Tjiurutue receives Dissertation Research Grant from the UMass Amherst Graduate School 

Muvari Tjiurutue, PB PhD graduate student

Muvari Tjiurutue from the Adler Lab has received a $1K research grant from the UMass Amherst Graduate School to support her PhD studies on the interactions between parasitic plants, their hosts and insect herbivores.  The study involves looking at how damage to lupine hosts (Lupinus Texensis) affects herbivory on Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) parasites via uptake of defense signals or compounds. A comprehensive screening of the plants for alkaloids will be completed in the lab of Phil Stevenson at the University of Greenwich in the UK.

UMass Amherst Researchers Identify a Key Molecule in Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria

Nitrogen-fixing symbiosis. A population of bacteria (colored blue) transverses the root tissue to colonize the incipient nodule.  (Photo credit Cara Haney)

Researcher Dong Wang (Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), along with postdoctoral researcher and lead author Minsoo Kim and former undergraduate student Chris Waters and colleagues at the Noble Foundation in Oklahoma, report in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences their discovery of a peptide found in alfalfa that holds the potential to improve crop yields without increasing fertilizer use.  This peptide, DNF4 (also known as NCR211), is a “double agent,” having the ability to support nitrogen-fixing bacteria present inside the plant, while also killing free-living bacteria outside.  Wang’s comments about his research in this area: “Next we want to find out why this peptide helps the bacteria inside the plant, but it can kill free-living bacteria outside the plant. Why does one molecule function as a double agent?”  Read More

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The PB newsletter is a summary of PB graduate student, faculty, postdoc and even some alumnae news from the past year!

SARE award to MS student Caroline Wise

Caroline Wise, PB MS grad student

Caroline Wise (MS, Hashemi Lab) is collaborating on a SARE grant ($177,442) entitled  ‘Developing Best Management Practices for Growing Grain Suitable for Malt in the Northeast’ as Co-PI with Masoud Hashemi of UMass and Heather Darby of UVM.  Wise received a SARE graduate student grant ($13,967) to study "Management practices for production of local malting barley in Northeast". Caroline also participated in a UMass Field Day Presentation: "Impacts of Planting Date, Nitrogen, Cultivar and Zinc on Barley Malt Quality"  where she presented a rationale and summary of her research projects to over 120 participants comprising local growers, and maltsters.

Christina Stonoha to present at Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation conference in December.

PB PhD graduate student Christina Stonoha

PB PhD graduate student Christina Stonoha has been chosen to give a talk at the 23rd North American Conference on Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation (NACSNF), December 6-10, 2015 in Ixtapa, Mexico.  Her advisor, Dong Wang, will also be presenting at the event. 

Li-Jun Ma named a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator

Li-Jun Ma, a University of Massachusetts Amherst biochemist and genomics expert, has received a coveted five-year, $500,000 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease award to develop new treatment options for opportunistic fungal infections.  The Ma lab studies the genetic mechanisms that underlie the aggressive pathogenicity and genome evolution at the fungus-human interface in the model fungus Fusarium oxysporum.  Ma and her colleagues will combine experimental and computational approaches to investigate pathogen virulence and host defense at the same time. Because of the huge amounts of data involved, she says, this project will use the advanced computing capabilities at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke.  Read the full UMass News article here.

Hazen and Harrington receive two grants to develop crop biotechnology venture

Plant growth is in part determined by a network of genes that influence total biomass yield. By studying the regulatory mechanisms of how plants build themselves, the Hazen Laboratory has identified ways to potentially boost energy crop yield. Professor Samuel Hazen and Postdoctoral Fellow Michael J. Harrington have been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). The NSF Innovation Corp program award of $50,000 is designed to extend the basic laboratory research to entrepreneurial ventures. By participating in this program they will explore product opportunities and a business development plan. The MassCEC provided a $40,000 catalyst award to test what they have learned in their laboratory model, the small grass Brachypodium distachyon, in energy crop species.

Muvari Tjiurutue receives 2nd year of funding from the "Faculty for the Future" award, Schlumberger Foundation

Muvari Tjiurutue, PB PhD graduate student

Muvari Tjiurutue's Faculty for the Future award was recently renewed for a second year.  The generous fellowship from the Schlumberger Foundation, is providing full funding for Muvari's research in the Adler Lab as well as funds for travel. This summer, Muvari went to Kunming, China to present her work at the 13th World Congress on Parasitic Plants (WCPP) conference. She presented her work on how gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar, L.) damage on cranberry hosts (Vaccinium macrocarporn) affected future dodder (Cuscuta spp.) parasitism on the same cranberry hosts. She found that gypsy moth damage delayed dodder parasitism and also delayed future dodder attachment possibly due to changes in phenolic acid defenses. She noted it was very exciting to present her work with professionals who share her passion for parasitic plants and she felt privileged to rub shoulders with some of the pioneers in the field. Muvari also presented her research at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference in Baltimore, MD in August.