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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
Biology
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.