Welcome to the Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) news and announcements blog. Stay up-to-date with all the happenings, discoveries, events and funding opportunities associated with KNE. Enter your email in the "Follow by email" box below and to the right to stay notified of new posts. Feel free to leave comments.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Kansas NSF EPSCoR Announces Spring 2019 MAPS Research, Education and Innovation Awards

     The Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 Microbiomes of Plant, Aquatic and Soil Systems across Kansas(MAPS) has awarded seven Research and Education Innovation (REI) Awards for the spring of 2019. REI Awards are specifically for small projects that will either allow for networking and planning or allow for the immediate pursuit of larger projects that are developing new transformational concepts. Faculty from the University of Kansas (KU), Kansas State University (KSU), Wichita State University (WSU), Fort Hayes State University (FHSU) and Washburn University (Washburn) are all encouraged to submit proposals. This funding is awarded to both research and education projects, given their close relationship, and selections are made in the same spirit as and share goals with NSF EAGER (Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research) awards for high risk/high gain research ideas. This year, the MAPS REI selection committee chose seven REI proposals to fund. Project summaries and the broader impacts of the investigations provided by the investigators of the awarded projects are included below.

A Potential, Unappreciated Mechanism Governing Transformation of Soil Organic C into CO2 by the Soil Microbiome
Dr. Sharon Billings and Dr. Pam Sullivan

Dr. Sharon A. Billings,
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kansas Biological Survey
University of Kansas,

Dr. Pamela L. Sullivan,
Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science
University of Kansas

Project Summary:
     Understanding how changing environmental conditions influence microbially‐mediated transformations of soil organic C to CO2 is critical for predicting atmospheric CO2 concentrations1. Microbial generation of CO2 occurs after the soil microbiome (bacteria and fungi) take up assimilable compounds often derived from larger soil organic matter (SOM) molecules. Microbes must allocate some assimilated C to CO2, providing a feedback to Earth’s climate. The breakdown of SOM molecules is catalyzed by enzymes exuded by the soil microbiome (exo‐enzymes) for that purpose. These processes are well‐studied. We propose to explore a potential, unappreciated mechanism driving the ability of exoenzymes to encounter SOM molecules for breakdown – soil pH and its variation due to climate change. If validated, this idea can transform current perceptions of the drivers of SOM persistence vs. loss as CO2.

Connections Among Aquatic Microbiome and Water Quality Degradation 

Dr. Joe Brewer and Dr. Terry Loecke
Dr. Joseph P. Brewer II
Environmental Studies Program
University of Kansas

Dr. Terry Loecke
Kansas Biological Survey
Environmental Studies Program
University of Kansas

Project Summary:
     This is a pilot study to develop collaborative partnerships aimed at constructing a multi-institution (likely multi-state) research proposal to explore the connection among aquatic microbiomes and riverine water quality. Initially, we will focus on watersheds within tribal lands in Kansas and Iowa with contrasting water quality impairments and water quality threats. Specifically, we intend to start networking with the Meskwaki Nation, tribes in the Kansas River watershed, and Kansas State University. Our vision for this initial phrase is confront current cause-and-effect models of the connections between aquatic microbiomes and water quality with available data. This process will highlight the gaps in our understanding, thus allowing us to focus our proposal on the most relevant questions and hypotheses. Concurrently, the MAPS component of the current Kansas EPSCoR grant has begun monitoring water quality and aquatic microbiomes in the Kansas River watershed. The opportunity to leverage the microbiome findings of the MAPS project sets the stage to potentially transform water quality monitoring programs into a more holistic chemical and ecological science.

Towards Integrated Groundwater and Surface Water Modeling for Predicting Aquatic Microbiomes

Dr. Amy Hansen, Dr. Andrea Brookfield and Dr. Pam Sullivan
Dr. Amy Hansen
Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering
University of Kansas

Dr. Andrea Brookfield
Geography and Atmospheric Science
University of Kansas

Dr. Pamela Sullivan
Assistant Professor, Geography and Atmospheric Science Department
University of Kansas

Project Summary:
     Our ability to predict how aquatic microbiomes will respond to projected scenarios of environmental change is dependent on being able to accurately model the dynamic coupling of groundwater and surface water and the subsequent effects on the chemical, physical and biological in-stream environment (Sullivan et al., 2018a). While a variety of surface and subsurface water quality models exist, these have not yet been adequately linked due to system complexity and computational requirements (e.g., Cho et al., 2016; Oliver et al., 2016; Bao et al., 2017). This REI project seeks to create a transformative approach to groundwater-surface water modeling by forming a team of experts to generate a modeling framework and develop a collaborative multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional proposal for submission to NSF.

Connecting Stream Microbiomes to In-stream Energetics and Nutrient Processing across the Precipitation and Land Use Gradient

Dr. Amy Burgin and Dr. Lydia Zeglin

Dr. Amy Burgin

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Kansas Biological Survey

Dr. Lydia Zeglin
Kansas State University;

Project Summary:
     Understanding river nitrogen (N) removal is of fundamental importance to ecosystem science given the critical role rivers play in mediating nutrient delivery to coastal waters.1-3 Downstream export of N to larger rivers is controlled by the relationship between N supply and demand.4,5 Stream N supply is influenced by hydrology (e.g., the precipitation gradient in KS) and land use.3,6 In-stream demand for N is determined by the stream microbiome – the microbial community that processes N via assimilation (uptake of N for biological growth) and denitrification (an energy-generating process used by some bacteria which converts nitrate to gaseous N2).7-10 Studies of stream N processing often focus on either the supply of N to streams or the demand for N within the stream, but rarely combine measurements of whole stream N processing rates with detailed analysis of the stream microbiome. Furthermore, it is even more rare to link stream N-process rates and microbiome composition to stream metabolism, the integrated rate of all energy producing and demanding biotic activities within a system.11 Integrating coupled energy nutrient cycling with an understanding of changes to the stream microbiome represents an important research frontier for understanding how streams control nutrient inputs to costal ecosystems.11 This research explores the connections between stream microbiomes, N processing rates, and stream metabolism. We ask: How does stream intermittency (represented by the precipitation gradient across KS) and land use affect the N supply vs. microbiome demand for N? We will address this question using a combination of new data and experiments, as detailed below, together with data currently being collected by the KS-ESPCOR Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil systems (MAPS) project. MAPS activities currently include measuring stream metabolism and stream microbiome characterization, but do not measure in stream N processing. We seek to supplement this strong foundation by: 1) deploying a nitrate sensor (from Burgin’s lab) to pair with the MAPS-funded metabolism sensors to measure coupled energy-nutrient cycling, 2) conducting whole-stream N uptake and denitrification experiments to quantify microbiome-driven in-stream processes, and 3) relating the microbiome process measurements to the characterization of microbiome community composition. We will perform this work at the 12 MAPS core streams that will span a range of land use and precipitation (thus, a range of N supply to the microbiome). Including measurements of N demand via in situ microbiome activity will provide a critical link between the composition and integrated functionality stream microbiomes. Beyond establishing this empirical link, our larger goal is to share this cutting-edge data at a symposium with stream researchers in neighboring states and generate regional engagement on an NSF Macrosystems proposal (solicitation 19-538).

Increasing Aquatic Ecology Expertise in Kansas

Dr. Greg Housman
Dr. Greg R. Houseman
Biology & Field Station Director Biological Sciences
Wichita State University 

Project Summary: 
     The purpose of the proposed initiative is to facilitate a new faculty hire with expertise in aquatic ecology at Wichita State University.  Wichita State is a Kansas Regents Research University that has shown remarkable increases in research capability over the past few years.  For example, funded research has increased from 50 to 100 million dollars per year over the past decade.  A similar trend is evident within the Department of Biological Sciences that currently has 11 awards totaling nearly 9 million dollars across the twelve research faculty.  Likewise, the WSU Field Station has experienced a rapid increase in capacity with two externally funded projects (NSF, USDA), an increase sites from 489 to over 5100 acres, and investment of over 1.1 million dollars in facilities and equipment over the past decade.  Several of the Field Station sites include important aquatic resources (springs, streams, rivers, and impoundments) in the southern part of Kansas.  However, the Department of Biological Sciences has no faculty with sufficient expertise to study aquatic systems or contribute to the broader examination of aquatic resources in Kansas.  Consequently, WSU would like to create a new faculty line to address aquatic ecology (broadly defined) to increase the momentum of the Field Station and within the Biology Department.  This objective fits well with the innovative goal of the MAPS project to link plant, soil, and aquatic microbiomes.  Specifically the new aquatic ecologist would address the MAPS thrust of aquatic systems and contribute to Goal 1.1. of the MAPS project:
“Characterize the structure and biogeochemical processes of the aquatic (stream and reservoir) microbiome resulting from variation in hydrologic connectivity, nutrient loading, and land use across the Kansas precipitation gradient” The focus of the aquatic ecologist will likely focus on understanding aquatic systems in Kansas and fostering linkages across plant, soil, and microbial dimensions.  It is expected that this new position would begin in August of 2019.

Expanded Kansas Ecosystems for Elementary Students
Dr. Peggy Schultz

Dr. Peggy Schultz
Environmental Studies Program
Kansas Biological Survey
University of Kansas

Project Summary:
     The Kansas Ecosystems for Elementary Students program (KEES) began a year ago, funded by EPSCoR MAPS, with the goal of developing hands on experimentally driven activities focused on Kansas ecosystems that support Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for elementary grades. We are currently visiting 13 third grade classrooms in Lawrence and Topeka. We will be visiting each classroom 5 times through this academic year. Our program was quite popular in its first year, and we were invited to return this year. Rosemary Blum interviewed one of the teachers whose class has been participating in the program this year and she said “I love that the program is engaging for students. It brings in resources that we do not have access to as a public school, and opens the eyes of our students to things they normally would not be able to experience.” We believe that by engaging students in this way we are enhancing students’ interest in science and facilitating students understanding of concepts that will support their academic success.  To expand the program, additional funding is needed for infrastructure to support planning of programs, organization and coordination of visits with teachers and instructors from KU and K-State, and hiring and training of more facilitators to serve as travelling prairie ambassadors to multiple schools. Given the importance of students developing an appreciation and understanding of science early in their academic life we would like to expand the program to reach more classrooms in Lawrence and Topeka.
     The first lesson of the year focused on the Prairie Biome, where students learned about the characteristics of the prairie ecosystem and were able to see bird and mammal skins from the Kansas grassland and dissect Barred Owl pellets. The second lesson focused on why and how plants disperse their seeds. Students saw how native plants disperse their seeds by wind, water, gravity, explosions and using animals, they then were able to design, build and test their own seed dispersers. We will be continuing to work with the students this spring. We will be demonstrating how energy moves through ecosystems, dissecting soils and testing the rate that water travels through different kinds of soils. We will also be illustrating the services that ecosystems provide us, for example students will be observing and testing models of how water flows with gravity to form rivers, streams and how damming waterways provide stable water supplies. We plan to develop more lesson that can be taken to classrooms as stand-alone or be combined with the lessons we have already developed.

Microbiome and High-throughput Enzyme Screening for Biodegradation Potential of Per- and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances
Dr. Belinda Sturm, Dr. Justin Hutchinson, Dr. Anurada Roy

Dr. Belinda Sturm
Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Research
University of Kansas

Dr. Justin Hutchison
Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering, University of Kansas

Dr. Anuradha Roy
Core Research Labs,
Director High Throughput Sequencing Lab
University of Kansas

Project Summary:
     The objective of this research is to identify novel microbes and enzymes that biodegrade perfluorooctane carboxylic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Bioremediation technologies could significantly reduce the costs of remediating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminated sites, but only a few microorganisms and enzymes have been studied and shown to transform these compounds. In order to advance biodegradation options, the proposed research will combine metagenomic methods with thermal proteome profiling (TPP) methods to develop a broader understanding of the biodegradation potential for PFAS. The soil and groundwater at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (FLK) has been exposed to high concentrations of PFAS for long periods of time due to firefighter training activities and operation of the airfield by the US Army. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a health advisory for PFAS contamination in drinking water, and FLK has contracted alternative drinking water supplies at a cost of > $1 million annually. This site offers a unique opportunity to assess the impact of PFAS on the aquifer microbiome as a significant PFAS concentration gradient exists in the contaminated groundwater. However, PFAS contamination is widespread in the United States, and the United States House of Representatives launched a bipartisan taskforce for PFAS management on January 30, 2019.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

MAPS Graduate Student teaches "Sunflower Science" to school aged children

Ashlee teaching Sunflower Science at the Kansas Children's Discovery Center
 and how to build a microbiome to 4th graders
     Outreach has always been a passion for Ashlee Herken, a  MAPS graduate student working with Dr. Tom Platt, Assistant Professor of Biology at Kansas State University (KSU) and team leader of the plant systems research group for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS). Part of the reason Ashlee chose to do outreach was because she was "extremely interested in representing women in science, promoting the research at Kansas State University, and supporting science education," plus, she loves "interacting with the children, because they are always extremely eager to learn about science.” In fact, it was her own fond memories of participating in science activities as a child that encouraged her to go into the field of science. Participating in the those interactive activities also contributed to her desire to lead outreach activities; and through her outreach, Ashlee hopes to not only serve as a role model, but also show "kids that science is interesting and that as long as they have a passion they can do whatever they want to do in life!"
     In order to pursue her passion, Ashlee chose to partner with Ms. Caitlin Luttjohann, the director of STEAM education, at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center in Topeka, KS because “it is a wonderful resource for the children in the area where I live.” In addition to teaching at the Discovery Center, Ashlee also reached out to Mrs. Gretchen Giffin, a teacher at North Fairview Elementary School in Topeka, KS, and has provided interactive science activities for her fourth grade class. The outreach lesson Ashlee teaches involves children building sunflower microbiomes, and this Sunflower Science lesson was derived from her own Master's program research.
Sunflower Science Lesson
      The title of Ashlee’s thesis is Identification and characterization of cooperators and cheaters from natural populations of Agrobacterium tumefaciens at different spatial scales across Kansas, and her research focuses on “isolation and characterization of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, an important member of the root system community of Helianthus annuus, better known as the annual sunflower, across the state of Kansas.” She explained her research as follows: “Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a generalist plant pathogen that is the causative agent of crown gall disease. Within the population of Agrobacterium tumefaciens there are organisms that have the ability to infect the plant and those that just use the nutrients the plant produces for the bacterium these are essentially free-loaders, we call them cheaters. I am particularly interested in the evolution of the cheaters as well as the interactions between different natural isolates and a known pathogenic strain.” She added that the interactive lesson she created is very similar to the activities she does in the lab. Ashlee explained the similarities as follows, “When I go to into the classroom or to the Discovery Center, I have a presentation titled Sunflower Science and the kids build their own sunflower microbiome. At the Discovery Center, they use stickers of different colors and put them on a model sunflower. In the classroom, they used model sunflowers and glue beads to it. The stickers or beads represent the bacteria. I talk about the positive and negative interactions in the rhizosphere and the reasons that bacteria like to live there. I also talk to them about the bacteria that I am interested in and the interactions that it has with other members of the same species and with the plant.”
    Ashlee graduated last May with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from Washburn University in Topeka, KS. While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Ashlee worked on several research projects. One of her main projects was “working on the characterization of a Bacillus subtilis phage that was isolated from a farm in SE Kansas.” In addition, Ashlee was involved in a collaborative project between Washburn University and Washington University in St. Louis called The Genomics Education Partnership. It was during this project that she learned to “annotate a portion of the Drosophila eugracilis genome using Drosophila melanogaster as a reference.” During her final semester at Washburn, she had an internship with Dr. Bret Freudenthal's Lab working with one of his graduate students, Matt Schaich, and they tried "to elucidate the structure of the telomerase protein, which could potentially be used in the future as a target for cancer drugs.”
     Ashlee is originally from Oskaloosa, KS, but is currently living in Topeka.  As for her future plans, Ashlee said “I would love to continue doing research after I graduate. Currently, I am looking into different options. When I started graduate school, I was not aware of the wide range of careers that would be available to me after graduation. Ideally, I would love to continue to work with plant associated bacteria and the microbiome.”

Funding for Workforce Development, Education and Outreach in support of graduate students is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

HERS student explores "Fire Sovereignty: Using Prescribed Burns to Conserve Tallgrass Prairies on Tribal Lands"

Kynser Wahwahsuck presenting
her research at the 2018 UCAR conference
   Kynser Wahwahsuck participated in the 2018 Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Summer Program after she received her BS in Environmental Science from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS. https://www.haskell.edu/sponsored-programs/hers/ The HERS program is one of the educational outreach initiatives proposed in the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS). The HERS program provides a platform for various stages of student support as they research topics that are of particular interest to American Indian/Alaska native communities. The program allows students to conduct independent research and present their findings at a national convention. HERS students from past years have focused their research on exploring “the effects of climate change on indigenous communities; the interconnectedness between wetlands resources, specifically soils, vegetation and water and the disruption to those ecosystems; and the significance of sustainable gardening practices.”  
    Being a member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, Kynser was interested in studying the effectiveness of the Kickapoo Tribe’s “mitigation of invasive woody species on tallgrass prairie utilizing indigenous burning practices.” She titled her project Fire Sovereignty: Using Prescribed Burns to Conserve Tallgrass Prairies on Tribal Lands and she explained her research as follows: “Before colonization, Indigenous people used fire as a method to burn grasslands to clear large areas of land in order to lure game for hunting. In addition, fire management was crucial in maintaining a healthy ecosystem for tallgrass prairies that became overgrown with invasive woody species. With changes in climate in the Midwest, these woody species are more abundant today due to the increasing warm weather and decreasing precipitation. In this research, I wanted to know how Tribal lands were managing their tallgrass prairies. I visited the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe Environmental Office and they showed me their practices for conserving the prairies on the reservation. I discovered how little of the prairie is left and how fire is managed differently now in present time. Based on my findings, I concluded the use of prescribed burns should be conducted once a year on the Kickapoo Reservation to suppress the woody material encroaching on the abandoned hay field and to restore the native prairie.” This past summer, Kynser presented her research during a poster session at the University Corporation ofAtmospheric Research (UCAR) 2018 Conference held in Boulder, CO.   
     Part of the HERS program involved visiting MAPS researchers' labs and that was when Kynser met Dr. Amy Burgin, co-team leader for the Aquatic MAPS research, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) at the University of Kansas (KU), and Associate Scientist for the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS). Once Kynser began working with Dr. Burgin, her research interests changed to aquatic ecology, and this is how she enthusiastically described what she is now doing with this new research focus, “I have gotten dirty helping with water sampling at Milford Lake! Currently, I am measuring phosphorus concentrations in Milford Lake where Cyanobacteria reoccurs.” 
     As for her next steps, Kynser said, “I will be starting my Master’s with Dr. Amy Burgin this summer and will be measuring stream nitrogen cycling processes across Kansas in the EPSCOR MAPS project.” In addition, and because of the HERS experience as well as the encouragement and support of Dr. Burgin, Kynser wants to mentor future indigenous undergraduate students.

Kynser is from the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas located in Brown County. While attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS, she was a member of the Student Ambassadors, the Haskell Tribal Eco-Ambassadors, Gamma Delta Pi Sorority, and served as a Student Senate Representative and Treasurer as a freshman. This summer, she will attend the University of Kansas and pursue a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with Dr. Amy Burgin.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the HERS program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

MAPS Professor publishes 3rd edition of textbook titled: Freshwater Ecology

     Walter Dodds, University Distinguished Professor of Biology at Kansas State University (KSU) and Co-PI of  the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas with his co-author Matt Whiles, Professor and Chair of the Soil and Water Sciences department at the University of Florida, have published their third edition of their texbook titled Freshwater Ecology: Concepts and Environmental Applications of Limnology. Everything from basic chemical and physical properties of water, to concepts of community ecology are discussed in the book. Ecosystem relationships found in continental waters and recent topics that influence aquatic environments are also addressed.  In additon, the authors explore details related to key issues such as how to balance ecological and human health needs, GMOs, molecular tools, and fracking.

The book will be available starting April 26.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The 2018 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute leads to a continued partnership with MAPS faculty and a collaborative research project for high school students and teachers across Kansas

Pam Lucas
Science Teacher
Skyline Schools
     Last summer, Pam Lucas attended the 2018 MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute. The summer institute is part of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) education and outreach initiatives and is under the direction of Dr. Peggy Schultz, Associate Specialist, Environmental Studies Program at the Kansas Biological Survey. During the 2018 MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute, teachers participated in whole group field activities and small group curriculum development exercises in the areas of aquatic, plant, soil and geographical information systems. The activities were designed to mirror the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Science and Engineering Practices.
     Pam’s curricular interest during the institute focused on developing activities related to the MAPS terrestrial (plant) systems research; however, she could easily see how many of the institute's activities could be taught to all her science classes. One of the first whole group activities was called Asking Good Questions. This exercise was led by Dr. Helen Alexander, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and part of the MAPS Plant Systems research team at the University of Kansas (KU)Pam saw this exercise as a student-centered approach to doing science, a key factor in designing project based lessons, so she incorporated it into her lesson plans. She started all of her science classes this year with this activity. Pam said she decided to teach the Asking Good Questions exercise, because it was a good way to teach her students how “to ask good questions and to realize the importance of doing so in science. Plus, this activity encourages a skill that applies to all of the NGSS standards and practices....” In addition, she said “I used the Pepper Population Simulation activity that Michael Ralph, Master Teacher from the KU UKan Teach program, shared with us to help my students model logistic and exponential population growth and to understand the differences between them;" As for the other activities presented, she said "I'm using the majority of what I have learned from the summer institute in my advanced class.”
    One of the projects that the teachers developed at the workshop involved collaborating with fellow participants from across the state. Pam explained their project as follows: I am working “with a group of teachers to design a cooperative project for our students to do utilizing little blue stem seeds collected from each of our home areas, plus, some from Indiana, Missouri, and Minnesota. We will be looking for variation of growth in little blue stem plants that have been inoculated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). We suspect that the seed from south central Kansas will do better than that from the other states. At this point, my students helped collect blue stem seeds and those seeds were then planted and stored on campus, at KU. Later in the spring, some of the MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute terrestrial faculty will deliver the plants to us and help us plant them. We will take some initial measurements on a group of plants that we will plant in a plot at our school. There also will be some blue stems that we don't plant. With the plants we do not plant, we will do a small study to see how well AMF vs non-AMF inoculated plants grow by comparing plant size and root size.” With this lesson, she hopes to show students “the benefit of evolving symbiotic relationships, showing that natural selection leads to adaptation, and also show that those organisms with a heritable, advantageous trait will increase in proportion.” Pam admitted she is still developing some objectives for this lesson as well as for future lessons related to this experiment. She knows that all of the lessons she develops from this project "will fit nicely with the NGSS HS-LS4 standards dealing with evolution." This project will also incorporate teaching students many of the skills outlined in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices such as collecting and analyzing data. Pam plans to use this collaborative lesson to serve as a foundation for several other project based learning lessons she plans to develop.
Pam with some of her students
     When asked what was the impact on students who experienced the MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute lessons, she said “Overall, I think that the lessons I have used so far have been beneficial to my students. They have learned the concepts and are better at applying them, which will help them do well on assessments.” And she was quick to add, “The kids that have participated in these lessons, so far, have done well connecting what they have learned to past lessons. I think that once our little blue stem study gets underway, I will see more of these connections being made. I'm excited to see this happen!”
     As for her thoughts about what she has gained from her participation in the MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute, she said “attending the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute has really helped me get a start at becoming more project based in my classes. My school is one that is currently in the re-design process and doing more project based learning is part of that re-design. I feel that the summer institute has given me a good foundation to build on for this new approach.” Over this academic school year, Pam has maintained contact Drs. Helen Alexander, Peggy Schultz, and Jim Bever, Distinguished Foundation Professor in EEB at KU, Senior Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, and Co-PI for the MAPS project, “because we have had to plan quite a bit for our blue stem project. We actually had a zoom meeting with them and the other three teachers to discuss how and when to get our project underway this spring.  I'm looking forward to them coming to work with my students and I this spring. They have been great to work with!” Just last week, the MAPS research team traveled to Medicine Lodge, Pratt, Goddard, and Hutchinson KS to help each teacher and their students get this collaborative project started.
  Pam Lucas teaches at Skyline Schools in Pratt, KS. Skyline Schools is a PreK-12 school all in one building, and Pam is the high school science teacher. Approximately 100 students attend the high school section of the school. This is Pam's third year teaching at Skyline Schools.

Other teachers who participated in the 2018 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute and who are also involved in the collaborative blue stem project are Jake Bjostad, Medicine Lodge HS; Marylee Ramsay, Goddard HS; and T.J. Williams, Hutchinson HS.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the HERS program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Kansas NSF EPSCoR Announces First Awards for the Spring of 2019

     Kansas NSF EPSCoR helps Kansas build its research capacity and competitiveness in science and technology through the First Award program initiated through the current Kansas NSF
EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS).  MAPS First Awards are intended to help early career faculty become competitive for funding from the research directorates at the National Science Foundation. The awards do this by encouraging early career faculty to submit proposals to the NSF or other federal funding agency as soon as possible after their first faculty appointment, and by accelerating the pace of their research as well as the quality of their subsequent proposals. First Awards are awarded to a single-investigators to support their research program at their institution. Any tenure track faculty member who: 1) is currently nontenured at the assistant professor rank at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University or Washburn University; 2) is within the first three years of his/her faculty appointment; 3) has not previously received a First Award or similar funding from another EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like (Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, COBRE) program in Kansas; and 4) is not currently nor has previously been a lead Principal Investigator of a research grant funded by a federal agency. Individual investigators may submit a total project budget of up to $100,000 in direct costs to the MAPS First Award program.  Only projects with research in areas that are related to the current Kansas NSF EPSCoR focus of microbiomes as broadly construed to be in aquatic, plant and/or soil systems were considered.  The following individuals and their research projects were awarded MAPS First Awards in the Spring of 2019:

Preetham Burugupally
Mechanical Engineering
Wichita State University
Trapping and assistedpairing (TAP) microfluidic chip meant to study plant cell-microbe interactions in a microenvironment at the single-cell level

     The research goal of this project is to design and validate a scaled-down version of the Trapping and Assisted Pairing (TAP) chip, a microuidics
tool for conducting plant cell-microbe interaction studies at the single-cell level meant to advance microbiome research. This goal stems from the big picture idea of smart and sustainable agricultural practices to meet
the future global crop production demands in the era of ecosystem degradation and climate change. The TAP will be capable of screening up to 10,000 cell-microbe pairs for symbiotic/parasitic relationships, help plant biologists devise approaches to maximize the symbiotic functions/minimize the parasitic functions, and engineer stress-tolerant plants. The TAP leverages droplet microuidics to efficiently trap 10,000 pairs of droplets |one set of droplets containing individual plant cells and another set of droplets containing individual microbes |and merge the droplet pairs, initiating 10,000 cell-microbe interactions. For maximizing the cell-microbe pairs, it is critical to understand the droplet trapping and merging physics. The project objective is to describe droplet trapping and merging physics in
the traps, and demonstrate the droplet trapping and merging capabilities of TAP. This project will significantly advance knowledge on two fronts. Biology: Advance the understanding of microbiomes. The TAP chip is a cell handling tool designed to advance microbiome research by enabling plant cell-microbe interaction studies at the single-cell level. By integrating a computer controlled x-y stage, automated data acquisition system, real-time image processing, and traditional imaging infrastructure, the TAP will be a live-cell reporter system that can track the progression in cell-microbe interactions for extended periods of time, and thus allow it to answer a wealth of microbiome questions: What genes in cells/microbes turn ON/OFF during interactions? Are there any yet-to-be-discovered cell microbe relationships? Engineering: A fundamental understanding of the influence of trap geometry and fluid properties on droplet trapping and merging. The TAP leverages droplet microuidics to pair individual plant cells and microbes in a droplet. It is very critical to understand droplet trapping and merging physics for maximizing the plant cell-microbe pairs. Through first principles-based parametric studies, design charts and guidelines necessary for the design of traps will be created.

Andres Patrignani
Kansas State University
Upscaling transient microbial activity and soil moisture dynamics

     Soil water and heat dynamics exert a strong control on soil respiration by modulating the rate of microbial activity, substrate availability, and the diffusion rate of carbon dioxide at the soil aggregate level. Thus, a first order up-scaling of soil respiration from the aggregate level to the
watershed level inevitably requires knowledge of the spatial structure of-, and cross-scale interactions between, soil moisture, soil temperature, and soil respiration. The goal of this study is to accurately quantify watershed scale soil respiration applying a simple up-scaling strategy based on the merger of chamber-based soil CO2 efflux observations with modeling predictions. We hypothesize that combining detailed information about the soil spatial variability of the catchment area with accurate soil respiration observations and a parsimonious model will result in more accurate estimates of soil respiration than the use of chamber observations or model predictions alone. A distinct feature of the proposed method is the integration of time-invariant landscape patterns with the soil moisture information from a cosmic-ray neutron detector capable of large-scale non-invasive soil moisture observations. This project will bridge the gap point-level (i.e. small survey chambers) measurements that leave large unmonitored areas between observations ecosystem-level soil respiration products such as those generated by eddy covariance flux towers. The proposed method will provide a framework for integrating ubiquitous soil respiration measurements and existing models of soil respiration to reconcile soil and tower fluxes and to better measure the exchanges of carbon dioxide of terrestrial ecosystems. Up-scaling methods that account for watershed soil spatial heterogeneity are essential to account for potential soil respiration “hot spots” and “hot moments”, better evaluate factors controlling the spatial variability of soil respiration, and assess the representativeness of eddy covariance tower measurements. This is particularly relevant in a global scenario characterized by the widespread deployment of micrometeorological tower sites that use eddy covariance methods (e.g. FLUXNET), the growing market of automated chamber systems, and new hectometer-level, non-invasive soil moisture sensing technologies.

Tom Platt
Kansas State University
Prevalence and co-occurrence of pathogenic and cheater agrobacteria on healthy and crown gall disease infected sunflowers

     Cheaters threaten the evolutionary persistence of cooperative traits. When cheaters and cooperative individuals co-occur, cheaters have an advantage because they benefit from the costly action of their competitors while themselves avoiding cooperative costs. The investigators will examine the prevalence and degree of co-occurrence of a cooperative pathogen and the avirulent cheaters that exploit it. The generalist pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens infects plant hosts at great cost to itself. Infected plants produce a public good resource that the pathogen and any present cheaters can catabolize. Our work has experimentally demonstrated that the cooperative pathogen is vulnerable to invasion by avirulent, cheating genotypes of agrobacteria that out compete the pathogen in disease environments. However, the degree to which there is opportunity for this to occur in nature is poorly understood. Accordingly, we propose to assess how common cheating genotypes are and the degree to which cooperative and cheater agrobacteria co-occur in natural environments. We will sample agrobacteria from Konza Prairie from the rhizosphere of Helianthus annuus plants. Characterization of the pathogenesis functions, opine catabolism functions, and phylogenetic relationships of this sample of natural agrobacteria strains as well as those from an experimental mesocosm will allow us to determine the degree and distribution of agrobacterial genetic diversity and evaluate the prevalence and diversity of cheater strains. The investigators will also measure the rate and spatial scale of cooperator and cheater dispersal in experimental mesocosms to access how dispersal influences cooperative benefits and the spread of cooperative pathogens and cheaters. The proposed research will provide insight into the ecological dynamics mediating the evolution of cooperation. This proposal bridges concepts and approaches from ecology, evolutionary biology, and genomics to examine how competition and dispersal influence the dynamics of microbial populations. The findings are also relevant to understanding how microbial dynamics influence the spread of a facultative pathogen in both environmental reservoir and infected host environments. These issues are of key importance to understanding the epidemiology of pathogens that can live independent of their hosts. The plant pathogen A. tumefaciens has been a productive study system for determining the mechanisms of microbial interactions but the ecological consequences of these mechanisms are poorly characterized. The investigators have previously leveraged this mechanistic information to identify factors shaping key ecological and evolutionary processes like the fitness costs and benefits of cooperative pathogenesis.
Maggie Wagner
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Kansas

A simplified community to enable manipulative study of maize microbiome function

     Plants live in close association with hundreds to thousands of bacterial and fungal species, both on and inside their roots. This diverse and complex microbial community—the plant microbiome—can profoundly affect the health of the host plant. For this reason, plant microbiomes have great promise as a sustainable tool for protecting both crops and wild plants against environmental challenges. However, the enormous complexity of natural microbiomes has been an obstacle to understanding the principles and mechanisms that determine their composition and function. One powerful approach to overcoming this challenge is experimentation with “synthetic communities” (SynComs), which typically consist of dozens to a few hundred known microbial strains, contained within an otherwise sterile environment. SynComs enable precise manipulation of microbiome composition and analysis of the effects on community function. The goal of this project is to create a SynCom specifically for maize and use it to explore the role of microbe-microbe interactions in root microbiome function under drought conditions. Maize is critically important both as a crop plant and a model system in genetics research. However, the existing maize SynCom contains only seven bacterial species, which limits its value and versatility. The proposed experiments will investigate maize root microbiome assembly from farm and prairie soils across a natural precipitation gradient in Kansas (Objective 1), generate a curated collection of microbes isolated from maize roots growing in these soils (Objective 2), and use the resulting SynCom to test how key organisms influence the rest of the microbiome and function of the whole community, in a water-limited environment (Objective 3). The proposed work would be the most thorough study to date of the maize root microbiome response to drought conditions, as well as the first to investigate the role of legacy effects (land-use and historical precipitation levels) on soil microbiome function. It would also increase the number of microbial strains available for maize SynCom experiments by approximately 30-fold, thus massively improving the microbial functional diversity that can be studied. The effects of SynCom strains on maize phenotype and microbiome structure under water-stressed conditions will be directly tested under reproducible germ-free growth conditions. The expanded SynCom may form the basis of a wide variety of follow-up projects, investigating plant-microbiome interactions at levels ranging from genes to ecosystems.

Funding for the Spring 2019 MAPS First Awards is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Monday, April 1, 2019

MAPS researchers discuss accomplishments at the 2019 MAPS Symposium

Dr. Kristin Bowman-James,
KU Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
 and Kansas EPSCoR Director
giving the MAPS project research overview
    On March 18, 2019 high school students and teachers; undergraduate and graduate students; faculty, and institutional and state leaders participated in the Kansas NSF
EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) statewide 2019 MAPS Symposium. There were over eighty participants in attendance. Opening remarks were given by Dr. Peter Dorhout, Vice President for Research and Professor of Chemistry at Kansas State University (KSU), followed by a keynote address by Dr. M. Ed Galindo, faculty member at the University of Idaho, Associate Director for Education and Diversity for the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium, and member of the MAPS Science and Education Advisory Council (SEAC).  Dr. Kristin Bowman-James, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of Kansas (KU) and Director Kansas NSF EPSCoR provided an overview of the project and Dr. Eric Welch, Professor of Public Affairs and Directors of the C-STEPS at Arizona State University provided a brief summary evaluating the program so far. To complete the morning session, each of the four research areas: Aquatic, Plant and Soils Systems as well as the Research Synthesis group, co-principal investigators or research team leaders discussed the accomplishments, challenges and future plans of the project.
2019 MAPS Symposium Participants
     Over lunch, Dr. Teresa MacDonald, Associate Director of Public Programs for the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum at KU, introduced her and Dr. Ben Sikes', Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Assistant Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) at KU, "Microbes on the Move" traveling museum project that began its tour on March 15, 2019 in Chanute, Kansas. The afternoon session consisted of updates from the Maps Education, Outreach and Diversity initiatives. Dr. Peggy Schultz provided information related to the Ecology for Elementary Students program and the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute .  Dr Cody Marshall, faculty at Haskell Indian Nations University and Dr. Jay Johnson, Professor and Associate Chair of Geography & Atmospheric Science and Director of C-FIRST, gave a brief history of Haskell Indian Nations University and an overview of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Program (HERS). Jill Haukos, Director of Education presented the Konza Environmental Education Program (KEEP) and Dr. Brenee King provided an overview of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Program (LSAMP). For the remainder of the afternoon, twenty-three MAPS individual research projects were presented at the MAPS Poster Session. 

MAPS Poster Session
The following is a list of the MAPS poster project titles and authors who presented:
  • "Linking the presence and function of denitrification genes to whole river estimates of denitrification in response to a large-scale nitrogen enrichment of the Kansas River (USA)" Amy Burgin
  • "Fire severity effects on ectomycorrhizal colonization of Pinus palustris and Pinus taeda"  Hannah I Dea, Jacob R. Hopkins, Ben A Sikes 
  • "Analysis of the Plant-Soil Microbiome Surrounding Native and Non-Native Grasses Across a Precipitation Gradient in Kansas"Mitch Greer and Scout Harrison
  • "Head Above Water: Sea Level Rise and Gentrification in Brooklyn and Queens, NY." Trevor Guinn
  • "HABs Rehab: Toward Predicting & Preventing Harmful Algal Blooms in Cheney Reservoir" Carlos Cross, Amy Hammett, Daniel Hammett, Jacob Hanna, Issac Stanton
  • "Do novel inputs into the Kansas River affect the water or sediment microbiome and water chemistry?" Janaye Hanschu, Lydia Zeglin, Amy Burgin, Michelle Kelly, Emma Overstreet, Cay Thompson
  • "Ecotypic Adaptation of Ascomycetes to Drought" Kyle J. Ismert, Dr. Andrea Porras-Alfaro , Dr. Jennifer Rudgers, Dr. Ari Jumpponen 
  • "Smart Adaptation of Enriched Microbiomes in Recovered Nutrient Products (biofertilizers) from anaerobic wastewater treatment to the native soil" Arvind Damodara Kannan, Dr. Prathap Parameswaran
  • "Migration Medicine: How Shifting Woodlands Affect Navajo Health" Sasha Keams
  • "Phosphate and pH data from Fort Hays, Konza, and Eastern Kansas EPSCoR research sites." Stephan Koenigsberger, Mathew Kirk, Dylan Beaudette
  • "Probabilistic Modeling of E. Coli SOS Response System Using High-throughput Biological Data" Stephen Kotiang, Ali Eslami
  • "3D Freeze Printing of Aerogels" Halil Tetik, Dr. Dong Lin
  • "Minirhizotrons: Existing Technologies & Motivation for Developing an Automated Minirhizotron Camera System" Colby J. Moorberg, Yuqi Song, José Guilherme Cesário Pereira Pinto
  • 'Impact of Land Use on Soil and Groundwater Microbial Communities in Great Bend Prairie Aquifer" Christina Richardson, Allie Richard, Janaye Hanschu, Lydia Zeglin, Matthew Kirk
  • "Terrestrial-aquatic connections, and what they tell us about drivers of microbial, isotopic, and metabolic activity across a Kansas aridity gradient." Anne Schechner, Bre Waterman, Matt Kirk,  Walter Dodds
  • "The Effects of Climate and Land Use on Methanotrophic Communities" Carrie Spanton, Terry Loeke
  • "FGC: Fragmentary gene caller for gene prediction in metagenomic sequencing data" Sirisha Thippabhotla, Ben Liu, Cuncong Zhong
  • "Fire Sovereignty: Using Prescribed Burns to Conserve Tallgrass Prairies on Tribal Lands" Kynzer Wanithunga
  • "Methane oxidation in native prairie soil" Irosha Wanithunga, Charles W. Rice 
  • "3D printing of Biocompatible Materials (Hydroxyapatite& NanoCellulose Hydrogel)" Guang Yang, Dong Lin
  • "Soil Microbial Community Composition Across a Precipitation Gradient with Different Land Uses" Carlos A. B. Pires, Marcos V. M. Sarto (KSU), and Charles W. Rice (KSU)
  • "GRARNA: Guided Reference Assembly of ncRNA for Metagenomic Sequencing Data" Ben Liu, Sirisha Thippabhotla, Cuncong Zhong

Funding for the 2019 MAPS Symposium is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.