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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The MAPS KEES program teaches seed dispersal to third graders at Scott Dual Language Magnet School

    The Kansas Ecosystems for Elementary Students (KEES) program finished the Fall 2018 semester teaching an interactive seed dispersal lesson to Ms. Charlotte Muñoz’s third grade class at Scott Dual Language Magnet School in Topeka, KS. The KEES program is one of the education and workforce development initiatives funded by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) and is under the direction of Dr. Peggy Schultz, Associate Specialist for the Kansas Biological Survey Environmental Studies Program. As part of Scott's curricular focus, science is taught in Spanish, so Dr. Schultz hired Ms. Tita Hernandez-Soberon to write and teach the KEES curriculum in Spanish. Dr. Shultz also enlisted the help of University of Kansas (KU) Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) PhD students, Laura Jimenez, Claudia Nunez-Penichet, Fernando Machado-Stredel, and Javier Torres-Lopez as well as program volunteer, Dr. Gaby Valverde-Muñoz to lead the small group activities within each KEES lesson.
Students discovering how seeds might disperse
    The seed dispersal lesson began with a brief discussion on how seeds can be dispersed by wind, water, explosions, and animals. Then, the third graders viewed a video showing how chipmunks store and transport acorns. Students were also shown a video, in slow motion, that explained how a "Jewelweed" or "Touch-Me-Not" seed capsule explodes in order to disperse its seeds. Following the introduction, students were split into small groups that rotated through activity stations led by the KEES instructors. At the first station, students were introduced to different types of seeds, and they conducted experiments to discover how each seed might be dispersed in an ecosystem. At the second station, students wore tape on their hands and crawled through oatmeal spread on the ground to simulate how seeds can be spread by sticking to animal fur. In the third activity, students pretended to be squirrels storing acorns for the winter. In this exercise, students wore socks on their hands and then crawled, hopped and ran from their trees, or home base to 1.) collect wooden acorns that were spread out on the ground; 2) dodge predators (KEES instructors); and 3.) bring the acorns back to their home tree. Through this activity, students learned how squirrels eat, gather, store, and drop acorns in order to help oak trees disperse their seeds. The final activity provided the students with the opportunity to create their own seed dispersal mechanisms and then test their mechanisms' effectiveness using water, wind, and gravity.
Students constructing their own seed transports and testing their efficiency
     When asked about the impact the MAPS KEES program has had on her students, so far, Ms. Muñoz said, the KEES program "has covered many of our Life Science standards. 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.” Her students also echo her enthusiasm for the program as Ms. Muñoz describes, “My students LOVE when the 'science people' come visit us. They are always asking when they will come again.” Ms. Muñoz shared some of the comments her students have made about the KEES program below:
  • "It is really fun. We learned about plants and seeds." (Isaac)
  • "It's fun because they show us new things that we might not learn here." (Bryan)
  • "I think it's fun when they come because we do exciting experiments. I learn exciting things that I didn't know about before." (Zaylee)
In addition, Ms Muñoz said that although most of her students already love science, “the ones that do not change their perspective when the science teachers from KU are here. They become lovers of learning.” Furthermore, Ms. Muñoz has seen evidence that her students are retaining the information they are learning. She explained, “My students talk to each other about what they learn. When we talk about similar things in class, students are able to tell me and compare what they learned then to what they are learning now.” When Ms. Muñoz was asked what activity has been her students' favorite, so far, she said they really liked the squirrel game that taught them about seed dispersal (see video below). 

     Parents are also expressing their enthusiasm for the KEES program. Ms. Muñoz shared, “I post pictures of my students in their activities on Class Dojo for parents to see. Many of the parents have expressed excitement that their child is learning in a hands-on style. One parent in particular has a gifted student in my classroom and has had concerns that her child needs to be working in a challenging and engaging environment. She feels that this program fulfills those needs for him."
    The KEES program is also engaging third grade students at Jardine Elementary in Topeka, KS as well as Hillcrest Elementary and New York Elementary in Lawrence, KS. These additional classes are taught in English by undergraduate student instructors. In the Spring of 2019, three more MAPS related lessons will be taught, and the KEES program is expected to reach over 250 third grade students during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the KEES 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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MAPS graduate student researcher receives a Self Graduating Seniors Fellowship at the University of Kansas

Paige Hansen
      Paige Hansen, a master’s student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) at the University of Kansas (KU) and a graduate student researcher for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), has been selected to be a 2018-2019 Madison and Lila Self Graduating Senior Fellow. The Madison and Lila Self Graduating Senior Fellowship is a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding undergraduates who are entering a graduate degree program at KU immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree and who exhibit "the potential to make significant contributions to society that are beyond the bounds of normal expectations.” Selected Fellows also have demonstrated “individual achievement in leadership and scholarship” and possess “the ability to envision and attain goals that require exceptional energy and tenacity.” As part of the award, Paige will receive $10,000 of support for one academic year and will participate in monthly professional development programs covering topics such as “leadership, effective mentoring relationships, conducting and communicating research, grant preparation, public speaking, policy advocacy, networking, and preparation for today’s labor markets and evolving industries."
     Paige is from Brookings, SD and graduated from KU in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor's degree (BS) in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and a minor in English literature. Her research focus is soil microbial ecology. Paige was first introduced to this field of study in high school when she worked for a family friend who was a research scientist at the USDA North Central Agricultural Research Laboratories. She commented, “I didn’t like it at the time.” However, when she participated in a KU study abroad opportunity as an undergraduate researching “plant-fungal genetics in Bangkok…,” she said, “I ended up really loving the research, especially its potential to help the environment and people.” She added, “This experience also made me realize that there are fun, cool people who are excited about research, and that spending long days in the lab can be fun. I came back to KU wanting to continue to do research 1) that matters to people and the environment and 2) with people who are super excited about their research.” While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Paige developed a novel technique for "quantifying microbial abundance and quantifying fungal response to disturbances such as controlled burns.” She also became interested in "how climate change and land use conversion alters soil fungal and bacterial community composition, both at the soil's surface and deep underground... and how these compositional shifts can impact plant communities and biogeochemical cycling."
     This fall, Paige is working in the Sikes Lab with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB, Assistant Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), and part of the MAPS plant systems research team. Her MAPS research focuses on “how the structure (abundance and composition) and function of bacterial and fungal communities at different soil depths in native prairies, restored prairies, and agricultural fields change in response to alterations in historical precipitation regime.” She explained, “I'm trying to figure out how bacteria and fungi might respond to precipitation changes associated with climate change, and contribute to the ongoing debate on whether microbial community structure or function matters more to healthy ecosystem functioning.”
    As an undergraduate, Paige received the following research recognitions: Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) Fellowship, KU Undergraduate Research Award, KU Undergraduate Biology Research Award, the KU Honors Opportunity Award, the Freeman Foundation Scholarship for East Asia Internships, and the Plains Area Director’s Research Scholarship. She also was involved in the KU Global Scholars Program, the KU University Honors Program, and the KU Undergraduate Biology BioScholars Program. In addition, Paige has presented her undergraduate research at the 6th Annual K-INBRE Symposium, the Argonne Soil Metagenomics Meeting, and the Central Region IDeA Conference.  And, Paige has co-authored a paper for publication titled Recurrent fires do not affect the abundance of soil fungi in a frequently burned pine savanna with T. A. Semenova-Nelsen, W. J. Platt, and B. A. Sikes. As for her future plans, Paige said, “I would love to be a professor at a research institution, or do anything that involves soil and microbes and that lets me travel!”

The Self fellows are nominated by their academic departments and are selected based on their “individual achievement in leadership and scholarship, potential to make significant contributions to society, and ability to envision and attain goals that require exceptional energy and tenacity.” This award is the third fellowship endowed by the Selfs at the University of Kansas, joining the Self Graduate Fellowship program for doctoral students and the Self Engineering Leadership Fellowship program for undergraduate students. Eleven students were selected as the 2018-2019 Self Graduating Senior Fellows.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

MAPS science team meets to discuss year one accomplishments and plans for year two

Year 1 Science Meeting Group at Konza Prairie Biological Station
     On November 16, 2018, faculty and students working on the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) gathered at the Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, KS to discuss accomplishments and challenges that occurred during year one as well as review and modify research plans for year two. The morning began with a welcome from Walter Dodds, a co-principal investigator (co-PI) for the MAPS project and member of aquatic systems research team. Then, the junior faculty team leaders for the aquatic, plant and soil systems research groups each gave a ten minute research update that was followed by a five minute discussion addressing challenges and the proposed research plans for year two. Discussions on project modeling and data management issues followed the team presentations. Over the lunch hour, MAPS students participated in a poster session. Twelve undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Fort Hays State University presented their research on the following MAPS topics:
  • Methane Oxidation in Native Prairie Soil 
  • Do novel inputs to the Kansas River affect the water or sediment microbiome and water chemistry? 
  • The Effects of Climate and Land Use on Methanotropic Communities
  • Plant-soil Microbiome Feedback Impacts on Native and Non-native Grasses Throughout Kansas
  • Soil health across a precipitation gradient with different land uses
  • Impact of Drying and Rewetting Cycles on Microbial Communities in Tallgrass Prairie
  • Effects of Land Management on the Microbial Community, Soil Structure, and Nutrient Dynamics of Cultivated Grain Sorghum
  • Recurrent fires do not affect the abundance of soil fungi in a frequently-burned pine savanna
  • A Mechanistic Model of Plant-Symbiont Interactions
  • How roots and microbes transform decaying organic matter into bioavailable phosphorus: pH as a master variable
  • Time Series Transcriptomic Responses to Drought in Maize Seedings
  • Impact of Land Use on Groundwater Chemistry and Microbial Communities in Great Bend Prairie Aquifers
     Breakout sessions were held in the afternoon to discuss research methods and sites locations specific to each research team, followed by a whole group discussion synthesizing year one's findings. Publications and data sharing policies made up the final session for the day. Research team members who were unable to physically attend the meeting, were able to participate in the sessions through video conferencing.

Funding for the Science Meeting was 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 research, workforce development, and educational objectives are designed to enhance research capacity and STEM education in Kansas, expand the STEM workforce and prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Girl Scouts of the Kansas Heartland learn about fungi

     On Saturday, November 3, 2018, Theo Michaels and Jacob Hopkins presented a lesson module on fungi to the Girls Scouts of the Kansas Heartland during the 2018 Girl Scout STEM Expo at Camp Tongawood in Tonganoxie, KS.  Both Michaels and Hopkins are Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) PhD candidates at the University of Kansas (KU) working in the Sikes Microbial Laboratory with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB at KU, Assistant Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), and Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) plant systems research team member. Michaels is also a member of the MAPS research team.
     About two years ago, Andrew Mongue and Kaila Colyott, two KU EEB Graduate Student Organization (GSO) members, and some local girl scout troops collaborated to create this event. Hopkins added, “Due to their fantastic efforts and the success of the first event, the event was held again this year." Both Michaels and Hopkins were invited to participate by Anna Klompen, the current KU EEB GSO outreach committee chair, who was instrumental in planning this year's event.
Jacob Hopkins and Theo Michaels
teaching Girl Scouts about fungi
    The 2018 STEM Expo presenters were asked to develop “a module that educated scouts in particular STEM fields.” Hopkins explained, “The modules were designed to be an informative and interactive way to get scouts interested in science.” In addition, some of the modules were designed to meet badge requirements. Hopkins described the module he and Michaels taught as follows: “In our module, we taught the girls about the basics of fungi, what mushrooms are, mushroom anatomy, basic microscopy, how to recognize Kansas mushrooms, mushroom safety, and how to grow their own fungi. The fungi basics and safety sections were composed of light lecture. The mushroom anatomy was a hands-on activity where scouts identified parts of a provided mushroom (purchased at the grocery store). The Recognizing mushrooms portion relied on KU herbarium specimens to teach the scouts about edible mushrooms in Kansas and their poisonous look-a-likes. The Grow your own fungi activity allowed the girls to plate fungi from different sources (i.e. fingers, leaves, sticks, rocks, shoes) on a petri dish that they got to take home and record what grew.”
     When Hopkins and Michaels were asked why they wanted to participate in the Girl Scout STEM Expo, Hopkins said “We participated because scientific outreach opportunities are key for: a) educating the general public about what scientists do, b) showing off how wonderful the world around us is, and c) providing a strong platform for getting scouts interested in STEM fields at a young age. Also, developing and presenting outreach modules is a lot of fun.” Michaels went on to add that the activity provided “a good chance for the girl scouts to talk to real live scientists about science, what it takes to be a scientist, and how to foster their interests moving forward. It also gives them a chance to see how science is a lens by which to explore our world and ask questions that can both directly and indirectly pertain to our daily lives.”
     In addition to Hopkins’ and Michaels’ module, “there were several other STEM modules presented by KU EEB GSO students at the event.”  Multiple troops from across Kansas, made up of about 80 Girl Scouts, attended the 2018 STEM Expo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

HERS student studies the environmental impacts of bison and fire on the prairie

Willow Kipp
     Willow Kipp understands that becoming well informed about Native American and environmental policies is essential to be a successful advocate for her community, “instead of being reactive to the rapidly changing governments and climate change.” With this goal in mind, Willow wanted to conduct further research on environmental issues, so she decided to attend the 2018 Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Summer Program supported by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. 
     The HERS program, housed at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence KS, “provides the platform for various stages of support for programs of interest to American Indian/Alaska native communities, most recently focused on the effects of climate change on indigenous communities.” The program allows students to conduct independent research and then present their findings at a national convention. Willow selected a project that allowed her to study the important role bison and fire play in sustaining the biodiversity of the Blackfeet Reservation's prairie. She titled her project Bison, Fire, Nitsitapii: Utilizing Innii (Bison) and Controlled burns to Maintain Short-Mixed Grass Prairie Biodiversity within the Blackfeet Nation.
     She described her research as follows: "Blackfeet people have actively managed the short-mixed grass prairie through bison herd management and controlled burns for hundreds of years.... Bison are a keystone species on the Blackfeet Reservation’s short-mixed grass prairie which is located in the Rocky Mountain Plains Region." Bison and controlled burns restore the prairie's ecological growth succession cycle (EGSC) and enhance its biodiversity. The bison's grazing habits and the bison's fur, chips, urine and wallows promote growth and productivity of the prairie's indigenous plants. Thus,"highlighting bison as caretakers of the land." Exercising a similar function,"controlled burns regenerate the ecological growth succession cycle too and reduce the intensity and destructiveness of wild fires" by burning the vegetation that can fuel them. Bison also "graze on burned sites which is one way bison and fire" work together to maintain the biodiversity within the Blackfeet Reservation's short-mixed grass prairie. Willow concluded, "I found that when both bison and fire are being actively managed, the prairie is in its healthiest state and biodiversity is sustained.” This past summer, Willow presented her research during a poster session at the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (UCAR) 2018 Conference held in Boulder, CO.
Willow's poster describing her HERS research
 that she presented at UCAR
    When she described her HERS experience, Willow said the program provided her with a great opportunity to conduct "in depth research on a topic of interest to me and my community.” She added that it also allowed her to enhance her writing skills. She mentioned the best and most eye opening experience came when the 2018 HERS cohort visited the Konza Prairie Biological Station. During the visit, Willow had the opportunity to personally observe bison, conduct field research, and use the data collected for her final project.  In addition, she said the HERS program allowed her to “create a scholarly project documenting ancient tribal practices as a current and relevant necessity of today.”
    Willow is Shoshone-Bannock from Fort Hall, ID and Blackfeet from Browning MT.  She earned her bachelor's and associate's degree in Native American Studies (NAS) and Environmental Studies (ENST) from the University of Montana in Missoula MT. In addition to her studies, Willow chaired several campus wide events. She also was a member of the Sacred Roots Language Society, and she won the University of Montana's Student Diversity and Leadership Award. As for her future plans, Willow wants to attend law school and pursue a career in Tribal/criminal law working for the Blackfeet or Shoshone/Bannock tribes.

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.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Benedictine College student studies the impacts of fire severity on fungi

Hannah Dea
     When Hannah Dea took a Mycology course at Benedictine College, taught by Dr. Janet Paper, she became “fascinated by the enormous role that fungi play in the life and health of plants.” She especially enjoyed learning about mycorrhizal fungi, the fungi that form a mutualist relationship with the root systems of plants as well as provide plants with nutrients. Because of this course, she wanted to continue researching ecological topics, so she found and decided to apply to the 2018 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) at the University of Kansas (KU).
     Upon her acceptance into the EEB REU program, Hannah chose a fungi research project that paired her with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB at KU, Assistant Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, and Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas plant systems research team member. She titled her project Fire severity effects on ectomycorrhizal colonization of Longleaf pine and Loblolly pine. Hannah explained her research project as follows:
Hannah analyzing ectos roots
“My project looked at how fire severity affects the relationship between microbial communities and soil nutrients and how this in turn affects a fire tolerant and a non-fire tolerant species of pine. I wanted to find out whether a more severe fire, which would kill off the microbial communities and release nutrients from the soil, would make the soil conditions more favorable to the fire tolerant Longleaf pine or to the non-fire tolerant Loblolly pine. My hypothesis was that, since fire tolerant species are more accustomed to fire affected soils, the fire tolerant species would be benefited by increasing fire severity while non-fire tolerant species would not. To test this, after both species were grown in high, medium, and low severity fire soil for 3 months, I took the percent colonization of ectomycorrhizae (a fungal mutualist on the plant roots essential for nutrient uptake) on both species of pine as well as the biomass of each plant. I found that while the biomass of the two species did not differ, the Longleaf pine had a much more efficient relationship with the ectomycorrhizae than the Loblolly pine. This showed that the fire tolerant species had a bit of an advantage over the non-fire tolerant species."
     When she was asked what the best part of her summer research experience was, she replied “My favorite part of the experience was living in a research community that allowed me to focus on sharpening my research skills. There were so many resources at KU that allowed me to do science without hindrance from lack of help or resources. I love plant and fungal ecology, and this allowed me to dive into it for a whole summer!” She added that the experience taught her how to conduct research, create good questions, make predictions, collect and analyze data and to communicate science “in a way that even non-scientists would understand.”
     Hannah is from Templeton, Iowa and is majoring in Biology with a minor in Latin at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. She is a student leader involved with Campus Ministries, and she assists with organizing and setting up masses on campus. Hannah has also been an officer in the Biology Club and is currently a Latin tutor for the college. Participating in this EEB REU reaffirmed her desire to pursue a career as a conservation biologist, an educator, and/or a naturalist. She plans to earn her masters degree in ecology after graduation. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Kansas NSF EPSCoR Announces the MAPS REI Award Recipients

     The Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 Microbiomes of Plant, Aquatic and Soil Systems across Kansas(MAPS) has awarded four Research and Education Innovation (REI) Awards for 2019-2020. 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 four REI proposals to fund. Project summaries and the broader impacts of the investigations provided by the investigators of the awarded projects are included below.
Dr. Ted Harris and Dr. Jerry DeNoyelles

Are persistent organic pollutants altering microbial methane emissions?

Dr. Ted Harris, Assistant Research Professor, Kansas Biological Survey, KU and
Dr. Jerry DeNoyelles, Deputy Director and Senior Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, KU

Project Summary:
     Freshwater systems are significant sources of methane and carbon dioxide, which exacerbate the effects of climate change. The established paradigm that microbial methanogenesis occurs exclusively in anoxic hypolimnetic waters has been challenged by studies showing that oxic methanogensis also represents a substantial source of methane (i.e., causing oversaturation in oxygenated surface waters – termed the “methane paradox”). Recent research has shown that microbes and cyanobacteria are able to cleave phosphonate compounds and create methane as a by-product to overcome phosphorus (P)-limitation. However, other direct or indirect methanogensis pathways – especially those in nitrogen (N) limited systems- are yet to be elucidated. Global estimates of freshwater methane emissions vary widely because differences in nutrient stoichiometry, phytoplankton community composition, and persistent organic pollutants
(POPs) - all of which likely mediate oxic methanogenesis- are not accounted for. The goal of this proposal is to experimentally test how (i) nutrient stoichiometry and (ii) glyphosate, a persistent organic pollutant containing phosphonate, mediate the microbial and phytoplankton community, which in turn likely alter methanogenesis and methane emissions from freshwaters systems. Resolving the methane paradox requires elucidating mechanisms and understanding relations between relevant parameters controlling oxic methanogenesis. This proposal tests recently discovered (methanogenesis by phosphonate cleavage in P-limited systems) and hypothetical interactions between nutrient stoichiometry, POPs, phytoplankton community composition/ cyanobacterial blooms, and global greenhouse gas emissions. Glyphosate is widely used and contains phosphonate, and could be indirectly altering global freshwater methane emissions. Thus, experimental results will likely yield a significant step forward in understanding the mechanisms and controlling factors of oxic methanogenesis in (i) N- and P-limited systems and (ii) when anthropogenically-created phosphonates are present in aquatic systems.

Boarder Impacts:
     The proposal is aligned with the philosophy and goals of the Advanced Placement (AP) Biology class at Baldwin City High School (20 miles south of the University of Kansas). Thus, we propose to conduct the experiment with the 2019-2020 AP Biology class; students will conduct the experiment with the help of the PIs and international collaborators while learning experimental design and analyses that directly connect with (i) their curriculum and (ii) relevant state-wide (e.g., eutrophication, harmful algal blooms) and global (e.g., climate change) issues. Because the experimental design and sampling methods are simple and structured in basic science, this proposal will serve as vehicle for exploratory research on oxic methane production and an outreach template to engage high school students via authentic experimental mesocosm research. Future funding requests will seek to expand mesocosm experiments to high schools across Kansas, and likely experimentally test other factors that may alter greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater systems.

Dr. James Bever, Dr. Folashade Agusto, KU and
Dr. Thomas Platt, KSU
Synergism between plant symbionts on productivity: Development of a mechanistic and predictive model of microbiome benefits to their plant hosts

Dr. James Bever, Foundation Professor in Ecology adn Evlolutionary Biology, KU;
Dr. Folashade Benette Agusto,  Assistant Professor Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, KU;
Dr. Thomas Platt, Assistant Professor of Biology, KSU.

Project Summary
     Microbial symbionts can dramatically alter their host’s phenotype and manipulation of these components of the microbiome may facilitate management goals such as maximization of productivity. Realization of the promise of microbiomes requires better understanding of the dynamics of complex microbial communities. Plants, in particular, interact with multiple symbionts, which govern acquisition of essential resources. Symbionts that deliver complimentary resources, such as mycorrhizal fungi delivering phosphorus and rhizobia fixing nitrogen, may act synergistically in their benefit to their host’s growth. While empirical evidence of synergistic benefits of mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobia exists, these benefits are often not realized. We propose to develop and test a mechanistic model of plant-symbiont interactions that is capable of predicting the environmental and plant life history circumstances in which synergistic benefits of complimentary symbionts will occur. We do this through extension of models initially developed as part of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (hereafter, MAPS) graduate course and through isolation of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and rhizobia from the core terrestrial sites of the MAPS sampling campaign. Together, this work will create conceptual and microbial resources that complement the MAPS objectives of determining microbiomem influences on terrestrial productivity and developing theory that synthesizes experimental and field observations. This work would also enable the development of more comprehensive proposals that could compete for federal grants from the NSF and USDA.

Broader Impacts
     The proposed project will provide training in mathematical ecology for one graduate student. This student, Rebekah Wagner, will be primarily advised by co-PI Fola Agusto, and with funding of this project, Rebekah will receive additional mentorship by all project co-PIs through the multi-disciplinary and collaborative nature of the proposed research. In addition, the rhizobia and AMF collections produced by this work will be available to 2019 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute (EKSI), a component of the EPSCoR MAPS Outreach programs that focuses on researchers working with high school teachers to develop inquiry-based curricula for use in the teachers’ classrooms. We have strong reason to believe that these resources will be popular with Kansas’ teachers because PI Bever participated in EKSI in summer of 2018 and has arranged experiments with six teachers to use his AMF cultures for inoculation experiments with their students. Co-PI Tom Platt will be participating in the EKSI during summer 2019.

Dr. Benjamin Sikes and Dr. James Bever

Life on the edge: using landscape edges to evaluate the spread and function of microbiomes

Dr. Benjamin SikesAssistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Assistant Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey, KU
Dr. James Bever, Foundation Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Senior Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey, KU

Project Summary
     Current land use practices degrade the terrestrial ecosystem services upon which food production and human well-being rely. Plant productivity, carbon sequestration, and soil nutrient retention can all be mediated by microbiomes, an awareness that has motivated the core MAPS (Microbiome of Aquatic, Plants and Soil) program. The MAPS project explores how land use and water availability structure microbiome composition and functions across terrestrial/aquatic interfaces, yet it does not directly test the utility of native microbiomes for restoring and promoting healthy ecosystems. Using microbiomes to achieve these goals in anthropogenically disturbed landscapes requires knowledge on the potential of native microbiomes to persist and spread in these landscapes. This research explores how microbiomes of undisturbed grasslands are able to establish and spread into adjacent human altered systems, and the functional consequence of these interactions. We propose to investigate the dynamics of microbiome structure and function along different edge types between intact prairies and distinct land use types. Our planned experiments examine 1) if different microbiome components (bacteria, fungi, & mycorrhizal fungi) exhibit different distance decay patterns moving away from edges, 2) if microbiota dynamics at the edge relate to soil properties and/or plant communities differences between adjacent systems, and 3) if microbiome changes are realized in two key ecosystem functions: carbon sequestration and phytometer (test plant) productivity. Unraveling the spread of microbes at ecosystem edges and their functional consequences is critical to understand whether land use creates discrete terrestrial microbiomes and functions, or if edges are dynamic, with functions that are distinct from the adjacent systems. Land use history has strong, but differential effects on microbiome components and their functions. Edges of parcels where different land uses meet offer adjacent novel environments into which specific microbes might spread and utilize. The dynamics of microbes at that edge may then alter critical ecosystem functions that can enhance adjacent systems. This research will determine if microbial spread across edges is governed by the growth and dispersal strategies of individual microbial groups, the edaphic and biological environment of the adjacent system, or both. As importantly, we assess whether the ecosystem functions that microbes mediate shift at edges, and whether functional shifts scale with the similarity of microbes, soil properties, or plants of the adjacent systems. The proposed approach integrates field experiments, next generation sequencing, and controlled greenhouse experiments, all of which are necessary to determine which microbes spread across edges, what governs their movement, and the importance of microbiome edge dynamics for key ecosystem functions. Because microbiome dynamics and function at edges are scaled across a range of soil properties and increasing land use disturbance, the resulting framework can be adapted to other land use histories. This research expands edge effect concepts belowground to better understand the barriers to belowground microbial spread and the resulting consequences for ecosystem function. 

Broader Impacts
     Conserved, intact ecosystems are increasingly surrounded and tied to working landscapes, with managers of adjacent lands who have distinct backgrounds and goals interacting in these spaces. Indeed, the fences that often separate properties can represent barriers both for organisms and stakeholder interests. The Welda Prairie, for example, sits adjacent to private landowners who use their grasslands for ranching and farming. In order to promote resilient microbiomes in these multi-use systems, effective research strategies must be inclusive and involve this diversity of stakeholders. This research will use on-site workshops and community meetings to enhance connectivity between community members across these land use edges, including the Kansas Biological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, and local farmers and ranchers. To enhance the objectives of this research, two new on-site workshops will be developed, focused on microbiomes and soil services, that build on past successful land management workshops held at Welda Prairie. In both, half of the workshop will be led by ranchers and farmers to help researches better understand what data they need from us and what factors drive their land use goals and decisions. This research will also create research opportunities to underrepresented students, including students from Haskell Indian Nations University and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (which fosters opportunities for underrepresented students in conservation science). In this way, this research will to not only push against the edges of microbiome research, but also integrate diverse land use perspectives for a holistic approach capable of meeting the demands of a changing world.
Dr. Wei Wei

Development of Microbial Fuel Cell-Based Treatment Systems

Dr. Wei Wei, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, WSU

Project Summary
     Municipal solid wastes (MSW) are rich in biochemical energy. However, much of this energy is sequestered in conventional landfills, which lack the moisture needed for efficient biological decomposition of MSW. Bioreactor landfills with microbiome as essential component enhance the conversion of MSW to methane, which can be converted to electricity. However, methane is potent greenhouse gas (GHG) and cannot be fully captured in landfills. Thus, in this proposed research, a twostage, microbiome bioreactor and microbial fuel cell (MFC)-based system will be designed and developed. Moreover, graphene sheets show great potential as electrode materials for MFCs. Many methods, such as mechanical exfoliation and chemical vapor deposition, are employed to prepare graphene sheets with a substrate. However, it is still difficult to prepare the separated graphene sheets without a substrate. In this project, the reaction between alkali metal hydrides and CO to graphene will be explored. This would constitute a new approach for the synthesis of separated graphene sheets. Although electricity production has been demonstrated in MFCs to treat a variety of wastes, a two-stage system which integrates a bioreactor with MFC has not yet been developed and investigated for MSW treatment. The reaction between alkali mental hydrides and CO has not yet been tested. The proposed research will explore this reaction for the first time. Knowledge regarding how the system configurations affect the MSW treatment performance, how the reaction conditions affect the structures and properties of graphene, and how the graphene sheets affect the MFC performance, which will be obtained from this project, can provide an opportunity to find a new approach for developing new process for MSW treatment and new materials preparation.

Broader Impacts
     The two-stage microbiome bioreactor-MFC-based treatment systems, which will be developed in this research, can directly benefit the research related to microbiome and solid waste management industry. Importantly, this new process will increase electricity production and lower GHG emissions compared to bioreactor landfill treatment technology alone. Thus, the proposed research will expand the role that landfills play in the protection of environmental resources while improving the sustainability of MSW management practices. The substrate-free 3D graphene sheets, which will be designed and synthesized in this research, will lead to the improvement of MFCs’ performance and reduce the cost, which will impact the commercial feasibility of MFC not only in MSW treatment industry but alsoin the other applications. Finally, this research will have a strong impact on the education of students. A special program—“Summer Institute in Solid Waste Management” will be created. This program will promote the knowledge and skills of solid waste management and materials science and engineering into the traditional high school science classroom via training high school teachers. This would be an effective strategy to increase female students in science and engineering schools of colleges. Furthermore, one graduate and one undergraduate student will work as important part of the diverse team, and they will gain hands-on experience designing, building, and running complex experiments. This project can increase opportunities for high school students as summer interns in solid waste management studies in the future.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the MAPS REI 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, October 15, 2018

Kansas State University MAPS researchers receive award from Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy

Dr. Jesse Nippert and Dr. Lydia Zeglin
   The Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy has awarded nearly $1 million dollars to two Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) researchers from Kansas State University (KSU). Dr. Jesse Nippert, associate professor of biology at KSU and part of the MAPS plant systems focus team, and Dr. Lydia Zeglin, assistant professor of biology at KSU and part of the MAPS acquatic systems focus team, plan to combine observational, experimental and modeling approaches in an effort to enhance the predictability of ecosystem consequences related to shrub encroachment and drought in the Great Plains region. The title of their project is DE-SC001109037: Using root and soil traits to forecast woody encroachment dynamics in mesic grassland. They will also be working with collaborators Kate McCulloh, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Kevin Wilcox, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming. The team will conduct experiments and collect their data at the Konza Biological Field Station. They will use root and soil traits, taken at various soil depths, which contain microbes, water and a large amount of carbon to forecast the plant encroachment dynamics associated with grasslands that receive moderate amounts of precipitation. The data collected and the results from this project “will define the depth-resolved feedbacks of drought and dominant vegetation on below ground root architecture, soil microbial carbon cycling, and ecosystem carbon balance.”

For additional information regarding the proposal go to: DE-SC001109037
Click here for the KSU press release

Thursday, October 11, 2018

ANNOUNCING MAPS First Award Funding Opportunity

     Kansas NSF EPSCoR is announcing a funding opportunity for First Awards in the areas related to the current Kansas NSF EPSCoR focus of microbiomes as broadly construed to be in aquatic, plant and/or soil systems. The First Award program helps early career faculty become competitive for funding from the research directorates at the National Science Foundation. 

The full request for proposals with submission instructions can be downloaded as a PDF at: http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu/funding.html

Submission Deadlines:

     Letters of Intent due by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.

     Full proposals due by 5:00 pm on Thursday, December 20, 2018 

Please note new proposal submission details included in the RFP.

Eligible to apply is any individual tenure track faculty member who:

  • is currently untenured at the assistant professor rank at Kansas State University, University of Kansas, Wichita State University, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University or Washburn University; 
  • is within the first three years of his/her faculty appointment;
  • has not received a previous First Award or similar funding from another EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like (Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, COBRE) program in Kansas; and
  • is not currently be nor previously been a lead Principal Investigator of a research grant funded by a federal agency.

In addition, one of the following conditions must apply:

  • The Principal Investigator has a pending proposal or is planning to submit a proposal to the NSF (or other federal funding agency) for the proposed research submitted to this program.  If in the planning stages, the proposed research must be submitted to a federal funding agency by July 31, 2020. 
  • The Principal Investigator has had the proposed research declined by the NSF (or other federal funding agency) and has a plan to re-submit the proposed research by July 31, 2020. 

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 are eligible for First Awards.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the 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 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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


     The Division of Biology at Kansas State University is recruiting diverse, highly-qualified graduate students to assist with understanding the linkages among microbiomes of aquatic, plant and soil (MAPS) ecosystems across the state ofKansas. 
The goal of MAPS is to understand:
  1. How microbiome structure and function among these systems change across the precipitation gradient of Kansas and land use, and 
  2. How those changes in microbiomes affect broader community and ecosystem properties. In all, the integrated and collaborative NSF-funded project is driven by >15 investigators, all of whom work collaboratively and train students in an interdisciplinary framework.
     If you are interested in developing skills in collaborative, team-based science focused on deploying cutting-edge tools in environmental microbiology and informatics, please contact the listed individuals who might serve as your graduate advisor. Students must discuss their interests with a potential advisor (by email or by scheduling a phone conversation by email) prior to submitting an application. 
Applications due by 
15 December for Fall or Summer 2019 start.



Plant Pathology
Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for these MAPS graduate positions 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

Monday, October 8, 2018

UIUC Actuarial Science major runs simulations to predict host infections in bird populations of the Hawaiian archipelago during KU REU

Megan Resurreccion
     Last spring, Megan Resurreccion met with her informatics adviser at the University of Illinois Urbanna-Champaign (UIUC) to discuss going to graduate school. During this meeting, she was encouraged to obtain research experience, so she decided to apply to a summer research experience for undergraduates program (REU). Megan specifically wanted a research experience that offered any kind of mathematical or statistical focus. In making her decision for where to apply, she commented, “Biology isn't normally my thing, but I wanted to see what computational work in that field was like.” Her search led her to a mathematical modeling project offered through the 2018 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) summer REU program at the University of Kansas (KU) and supervised by Dr. Folashade B. Agusto, Assistant Professor in the EEB department at KU and part of the research team for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas.
Her poster describing her study and results 
    Megan titled this project, Effects of Breeding Phenology on Avian Malaria Transmission Model. She described her research and her findings as follows: “In the Hawaiian archipelago, there is an infectious disease called avian malaria which has been affecting many native Hawaiian birds, transmitted by southern house mosquitoes. Simulations were run in Matlab to predict what total host infection rates of a bird species was based on differing breeding phenology (seasonality). The breeding phenology refers to the various times of year that the birds and mosquitoes had their breeding seasons in, so a single bird peak breeding season was estimated and compared with five other mosquito peak breeding seasons. The temporal distance between a mosquito breeding season and bird breeding season was then used to predict the infection rate. This was also tested in terms of low and high elevation since infection rates have been known to differ at various levels. The results concluded that when the mosquito breeding season was later than the bird breeding season, total host infection rates were higher. Then a simulation for differences in low and high elevations were run. For low elevations, total host infection rates were at their highest regardless of breeding phenology but were highest when the mosquito breeding season was before the bird breeding season. For high elevations, total host infection rates were highest when the mosquito breeding season was later than the bird breeding season. The importance of this is that it's important to preserve the biodiversity of the Hawaiian archipelago, and conservation measures should be implemented depending on when total host infection rates were. Our findings indicate a higher rate of total host infection at lower elevations than at higher elevations. Additionally, total host infection rates are higher when vector breeding season peaks occur after the breeding season peaks of native Hawaiian birds. Conclusively, based on the breeding season peak phenology, there should be measures taken to protect Hawaiian bird species since avian malaria is a prominent reason for population decline in these birds. If not, the population decline and potential extinction of bird species can have drastic effects on the biodiversity of the Hawaiian archipelago.”
     Megan said the best part of the summer research experience was “getting to know the undergraduates, learning what their research was about, and what kind of possibilities for research are out there, even if it isn't something I tend to explore more in depth.” She added that she also learned what it takes to conduct research such as “reading up on related literature, writing up a paper, running trials, fixing errors” and working in a lab.
     Currently, Megan is a student at the UIUC majoring in actuarial science and minoring in mathematical statistics, informatics, and creative writing. She also works as a Resident Advisor in University Housing at UIUC. In addition to her studies and work, Megan is a member of the Actuarial Science Club and is looking forward to serving as a Mathematics Ambassador for the UIUC Department of Mathematics. As for her future plans, Megan would like to attend graduate school for a masters or Ph.D. in statistics, and eventually pursue a career in the realm of statistics and data science.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

MAPS investigator, Dr. Walter Dodds, receives the KSU Karen Ann Griffith Research Award

Karen Ann Griffith, Dr. Walter Dodds, Dr. Amit Chakrabarti
    Dr. Walter Dodds, University Distinguished Professor of Biology at Kansas State University (KSU) and co-principal investigator leading the aquatics team for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), has received the Karen Ann Griffith Research Award. He will be honored at a reception on October 10, 2018 from 4:00 pm to 5:30 in the Tadtman Boardroom of the KSU Alumni Center. This award has been granted to Dr. Dodds for his interdisciplinary research related to Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 and for connecting faculty from Biology, Agronomy, Plant Pathology and Geology in this collaborative research effort. Dr. Amit Chakrabarti, Dean of the KSU College of Arts and Sciences will deliver remarks. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

KU MAPS researchers receive NSF ERA award to examine soil properties in response to climate change using math models

Dr. Pam Sullivan and Dr. Sharon Billings
   Dr. Pam Sullivan, Assistant Professor, Geography and Atmospheric Science, and Dr. Sharon Billings, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Senior Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey, at the University of Kansas (KU) have received an NSF Earth Sciences grant award to study the changes of soil properties in response to climate change. The title of their project is RAISE-SitS: Designing models to forecast how biogeochemical fluctuations in soil systems govern soil development, terrestrial water storage and ecosystem nutrient fluxes (NSF EAR #1841614).
     The researchers will develop new mathematical models to study the causes of changing soil structures and examine plant-soil-water responses to varying environmental conditions.  These new “models will allow the effects of soil structure fluctuations on ecosystem processes to be evaluated at diverse spatial and time scales,” and “may improve forecasting of future availability and quality of water resources, soils, and associated ecosystem services.” More specifically, the “soil ecosystem models (empirical and process-based) will be developed at multiple spatial scales to link soil structure and function in order to enhance the prediction of water and biogeochemical fluxes on timescales of decades to centuries. These models will be parameterized using soil, plant, and aquatic microbiome data collected across a strong precipitation gradient in the central USA (part of NSF Kansas Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas) and continental-scale soil databases (e.g., the National Cooperative Soil Survey Soil Characterization Database, United States Department of Agriculture)."These models will also create and make available community tools to examine nutrient fluxes produced by soil, water and biogeochemical feedback, with an ultimate goal of addressing "nationwide problems such as managing the nitrogen cycle and the Gulf of Mexico dead zone" as well as “test climate driven changes in the soil fabric which prompt the emergence of integrated terrestrial responses that are more rapid than typically considered.”

For more information go to NSF EAR #1841614
And KU today 9/17/18

(Quotes in the article taken directly from the NSF EAR #1841614 award abstract)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

MAPS REU student studies soil microbial communities in the tallgrass prairie

Lauren conducting field work,
working in the lab,
 and showing a soil sample
    Lauren Chartier has a broad interest in science, particularly Biology, but when she took an Environmental Science course, she became intrigued with soil science. It was her interest in studying microbe communities in soil systems that led her to apply for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR  RII track 1 OIA # 165006: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil systems across Kansas (MAPS) summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) offered at Kansas State University (KSU). Lauren was primarily interested in the KSU REU program because the research opportunity "tied microbiological and soil science to climate change." She liked the idea of conducting research that addressed issues related to "the acceleration of natural global climate change." So when offered an opportunity to work with Dr. Charles Rice, Distinguished Professor of Agronomy at KSU who specializes in soil microbiology, and who is the Co - Principal Investigator leading the soil systems investigation team for the MAPS project, she eagerly accepted it.
Some results from Lauren's study
      The title of Lauren’s study is the Impact of Drying and Re-wetting Cycles in Microbial Communities in the Tallgrass Prairie, and she describes her project as follows: “My research investigated the short-term effects of drying and re-wetting cycles on soil microbial communities.  Previous research done at the Konza Prairie Biological Station suggested that there might be a long-term, “legacy effect”, on microbial activity and biomass due to moisture variation in the grasslands.  However, new data is indicating that there is no legacy effect, so I investigated a 30 year-old experimental plot in Konza to take a closer look at what may be causing similarities between microbial groups. I tested the carbon dioxide concentration, fatty acid biomarkers, inorganic nitrogen, and soil mineral composition in correlation with microbial activity and development to determine whether there really is or is not a legacy effect and what short-term effects might be present.”
     Acquiring a new perspective for soil science and for graduate school was the best part of the experience for Lauren.  More specifically, she explained, “I gained clear and hands-on exposure to the life and level of performance in graduate schools, while learning about the dynamic and interdependent connections between soil, microbes, plants, and animals.” In addition, she said “I enjoyed learning how to perform the tests used to analyze soil microbes and various characteristics of soil health, but the fascinating thing is those tests can translate into many other scientific fields of study. I learned that in soil science, there is no clear-cut answer to anything. Conditions that apply in one place may not apply in another and the differences may be slight to drastic variations.”
     Lauren is from Williamsburg,VA and is currently a student at the University of Mary Washington (UMW) in Fredericksburg, VA. She is majoring in Biology with a minor in Environmental Science. In addition to her studies, Lauren is a Representative for the Honors Class of 2020, the Secretary of the Biology Student Association (BSA), and Co-Captain of the UMW Women’s Rowing Team. Once she completes her bachelor’s degree, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in an environmental field and possibly earn a PhD. As for her future career plans, Lauren commented, “Ultimately, I would like a career working outdoors with a focus on conservation, or in a field that protects people and nature from the negative repercussions of accelerated climate change.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the MAPS KSU summer REU 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

Friday, September 21, 2018

MAPS Researchers awarded NSF Earth Sciences Award to study Biochemical Drivers of IETs from iron reducers to methanogens

Matthew Kirk and Lydia Zeglin
     Two Kansas State University (KSU) researcher team members working on the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) project have received a NSF Earth Science award to explore Biogeochemical drivers of interspecies electron transfer from iron reducers to methanogens. Through this study, Matthew Kirk, Assistant Professor of Geology at KSU and a memeber of the MAPS soils focus group, and Lydia Zeglin, Assistant Professor of Biology at KSU and and a member of the MAPS aquatic focus group, will “1) identify environmental drivers that push interactions of methanogens and iron reducers between competition and interspecies electron transfer (IET), determine how changes in interactions between methanogens and iron reducers affect methane generation, and 3) evaluate the coupled role of enzyme properties and environmental chemistry in determining the nature of interactions.”  To address each of these goals the researchers “will integrate the results of bioreactor experiments with dynamic enzyme modeling.” The findings of the study “will create a roadmap for evaluating the environmental significance of IET between iron reducers and methanogens by defining an environmental context for this interaction,” as well as provide tools to better understand “the ecological underpinnings of the global methane cycle.”

For more details and information on this award go to: NSF EAR: #1753436
(Quotes in the article taken directly from the NSF EAR: #1753436 award abstract)

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

KS-LSAMP student studies agrobacterial genetic diversity

Veronica collecting samples from the Konza Prairie
     Veronica Mateo, a recent graduate of Dodge City Community College  (DC3) in Dodge City, Kansas, considers the well being of animals her passion. She commented, "Ever since I was a child I would find myself tending to the care and needs of my family pets." Caring for animals and knowing she could impact their lives was the main reason she decided to pursue an Associate’s degree in Wildlife Biology. Once she graduated, she knew she wanted to continue her education at Kansas State University (KSU).  So, she was excited to learn that during her transition to KSU, she had an opportunity to participate in the Research Immersions Pathways to STEM (RiPs) program.
     The RiPs program is a summer research experience offered by the Pathways to STEM: Kansas Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (KS-LSAMP) at KSU that provides students with a unique opportunity to work with faculty and conduct independent research. LSAMP is a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that recruits, supports, and encourages underrepresented minority students to pursue baccalaureate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. The KS-LSAMP RiPs program is specifically for Kansas community college students who intend to transfer to KSU or who are current KSU sophomores and juniors with no prior research experience.
     This summer, Veronica's research interests expanded to include the plant microbiology associated with ecosystems. She explained that because “Plants play a huge role in an animal’s ecosystem, the type of research I am interested in deals with plant pathogens.” Dr. Thomas Platt, Assistant Professor of Biology at KSU and a member of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas plant systems research team, was her mentor. Veronica titled her project, the Degree of Agrobacterial Genetic Diversity within an infected plant and describes her research project as follows: “Agrobacterium tumefaciens are generally found in the root environment of the plants known as rhizosphere. Because interactions among different strains can influence pathogen dynamics, we aimed to determine the degree of agrobacterial diversity co-occurring on a single host. A typical diseased plant will harbor a gall or tumor on the crown. The samples were collected from Konza Prairie. We plated the samples collected onto a semi-selective media to identify and isolate biovar 1 agrobacteria seen as black, shiny colonies. We then used a biochemical test, then streak purified and preserved 360 isolates from these plants so that we could characterize the phenotypic and genetic attributes of the agrobacteria present. We used PCR to amplify and subsequently sequence the recA locus of the isolates from the infected sunflower to determine if the infected plant was colonized by one or several agrobacterial genotypes. We used a phylogenetic analysis that includes representatives of all 11 of the known genomovars of A. tumefaciens to determine which group or groups of agrobacteria were present. In the future we would like to determine if co-occurring genotypes significantly impact each other’s fitness. However, we are currently troubleshooting the recA locus at the moment.”
Veronica, Dr. Platt
and colleagues
     When asked what she learned from her KS-LSAMP RiPs experience, Veronica said, “Previously, I had never conducted actual research. The lab experience is definitely different from my science experience at the community college or even high school. You don’t always get the results right away, and you will be let down sometimes. However, that is science. We have to learn from our mistakes and analyze what went wrong. This research taught me, overall, about what a research lab experience is and how to be patient.” Her favorite part of the summer experience was working in the lab and meeting the people associated with Dr. Platt’s lab. She added, “When I had any issues or questions I did not hesitate to ask them and having that resource made it an enjoyable experience.”
     Veronica is from Dodge City, Kansas, and is currently a junior majoring in Biology at KSU. While studying at KSU, she plans to continue her research in Dr. Platt’s lab. As for her future plans, she said, “My career plan is to apply to the Veterinary program here at Kansas State University over the summer of 2019 and someday work in an environment surrounded by animals.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the KS-LSAMP  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