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.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

MAPS Researcher receives NSF Early Career Investigator Award in Plant Genome Research

Dr. Sanzhen Liu
    Sanzhen Liu, a research team member on theMicrobiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) project and an assistant professor in the plant pathology department at Kansas State University (KSU), has received a four-year 2.4 million dollar NSF Early Career Investigator Award in Plant Genome Research. The title of the research project is Under the Hood: The Genetic Components of Maize Transformation, (NSF IOS ECA-PGR Award #1741090). Liu will be collaborating with Sunghun Park, professor of horticulture and natural resources at KSU, Frank White from the University of Florida, Myeong-Je Cho from the University of California-Berkeley, and Hairong Wei from Michigan Technological University. The study seeks to "understand the genetic basis underlying the ability of plant tissues to regenerate into whole plants."
      Specifically, Liu and his team will investigate the genome engineering of maize. They selected maize because it is one of the highest-yielding cereal crops in the world that faces challenges of dramatic yield increases, "particularly under highly variable climates and disease pressures." The researchers plan to sequence the genome of an amenable maize tissue culture to identify the genetic elements that regulate culture ability. The group will develop and apply novel approaches in order to decode the complex maize genome.  Specifically, the team will utilize a plant-bacterium delivery system that enables "plants to gain benefits from the bacterium."  Then, a "designable bacterial system specifically interacting with genes of interest in the maize genome will be utilized to study gene function and manipulate cell development."
    This investigation will also provide training in genetics and computation as well as large data education for students and post docs involved in the project. In addition, it "will collaborate with the Kansas Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation to encourage involvement of historically underrepresented students in STEM fields."

Monday, September 10, 2018

HERS student examines wetland viability

Tasha Chenot presenting her research at UCAR, 
Boulder, CO.
     As a recent Environmental Science graduate from Haskell Indian Nations University, Natasha (Tasha) Chenot saw the Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS)  partnership with the Haskell Environmental Research Summer Internship (HERS) program as an opportunity to pursue her research interests associated with climate change and the resiliency of Indigenous communities. Specifically, she was interested in investigating the "interplays between culture, identity, and the environment" as it related to Indigenous geographies, environmental policy, and environmental stewardship. As an undergraduate, these interests led her to join the Haskell Indian Nations University Tribal Eco-Ambassadors Program sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  While serving as a Tribal Eco-Ambassador, Tasha organized several Haskell Wetland Clean-Up events and recognized that there were only a limited number of studies related to the impacts of road construction on wetlands.  Consequently, when it came time to select a research topic for the HERS program, she decided to explore the impact of highway construction and use on the Wakarusa Wetlands, located in Lawrence, Kansas.  She titled her project, The Effects of Highway Construction and Use on the Water Chemistry of Adjacent Wetlands and explained the rationale and results of her research as follows: “Wetlands are highly sensitive to disturbances associated with highway construction and use. However, few studies have examined the during-and-after effects of highway construction on wetland viability. At the Wakarusa Wetlands, located in Lawrence, Kansas, a four-lane highway was built from May 2014 to June 2016 across the northern part of the landscape. In the summer of 2018, I worked with data collected during two time periods to assess the during-and-after effects of highway construction on the water chemistry of the Wakarusa Wetlands. Although the data was discontinuous, immediate results from water quality tests suggested that disturbance from highway construction to date has increased turbidity and decreased DO content and conductivity in the wetlands. Future research activities may include establishing a long-term, continuous monitoring system in order to further investigate changes in wetland water quality.” Tasha presented her research findings at the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (UCAR) 2018 Conference held in Boulder, CO this past July.
     Tasha is a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and is originally from Oklahoma City, OK; however, she grew up in Lawrence, KS. Her favorite part of the HERS internship was “learning about other interns’ research projects. Everyone’s project spoke to issues that they felt passionate about and centered on the cultural survival of their (and others’) community. I truly learned so much.” In addition, she said that through this internship experience, “I learned several writing and data management skills that will undoubtedly help me in my future studies.”
     Currently, Tasha is a graduate student at the University of Kansas working on a master’s degree in Geography.  Her long term goal is to move to Alaska after graduation and work as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Environmental Consultant for the many Alaska Native corporations located throughout the state.

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, September 6, 2018

NSF 2026 IDEA MACHINE Competition

Kansas NSF EPSCoR is excited about this new opportunity for the community to take an active role in shaping the future direction of NSF. The NSF 2026 Idea Machine contest is a competition to identify new directions for future research. The key points of the competition are for entrants to suggest "grand challenge" questions for future research, first in narrative form and then through video "pitches." 

Authors of the best ideas will receive public recognition and/or cash prizes. Contestants much be at least 14 years old at the time of entry.

Entries will be accepted between August 31 through October 26, 2018.  Register online 
Please help us to spread the word! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

NSF EPSCoR RII Track-2 FEC Solicitation

   The NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) has released the Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2: Focused EPSCoR Collaborations (RII Track-2 FEC), NSF 18-589 solicitation.  Proposals submitted for this FY19 RII Track-2 FEC competition must address the NSF Harnessing the Data Revolution scientific topic area.  Harnessing the Data Revolution is one of the NSF Ten Big Ideas. The research proposal must address a specific compelling problem related to a scientific topic of national importance.  Details about the requirements are provided in the solicitation.  Only one proposal from each submitting organization can be submitted.

Letters of Intent are due: November 26, 2018

Full Proposals are due: January 25, 2019

Questions regarding the new RII Track-2 FEC solicitation may be directed to Dr. J.D. Swanson (jswanson@nsf.gov; 703-292-2898).