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Plant City, Tennessee, United States

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 189.97K | Year: 2012

The family Tachinidae contains nearly 10,000 described species of beneficial parasitic flies. As enemies of other insects, particularly herbivores, tachinids are important regulators of host populations in natural and agricultural ecosystems. They help in the natural control of numerous pest insects and have been effectively used in biological control of invasive pests. Despite their diversity and ecological importance, we know little about their interactions with hosts and how these have developed over time. The taxonomic difficulty and lack of a robust classification of tachinids has hindered both basic and applied research. The goals of this project are to reconstruct relationships among groups of tachinid flies using molecular and traditional methods and then use these results to produce a stable classification and to understand patterns of host-use and other life history traits. Another key goal is to broadly distribute taxonomic and biological information on tachinids to researchers and practitioners.

Tachinidae are the most important group of insect parasitoids outside of the wasps. A sound grasp of their history and a reliable taxonomic infrastructure are necessary to understand their roles as enemies, the evolution of their diverse attack strategies, and the causes of their rapid and rampant diversification. Such an understanding can guide the selection of the most effective tachinid biological control agents in agricultural and forest systems and limit the potential negative impacts upon non-targets. It will also inform broad issues in biology such as biogeography, ecological specialization, and the causes of adaptive diversification.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 234.15K | Year: 2016

Animals have limited life spans, and mortality is a common occurrence in terrestrial ecosystems. What happens in nature to the body of an animal after it dies? From an ecological perspective, a decomposing animal creates a localized pulse (hot spot) of nutrient-rich organic matter, fertilizing the soil below. Following death of an animal, the environment may be inoculated with microorganisms from the animals microbiome. Very little is understood about the ultimate fate of these nutrients and microbes - how much is retained in soil, recycled, or released into the atmosphere? These questions are important in terms of understanding how nutrients are produced and consumed in ecosystems, and evaluating the importance of carrion inputs across larger scales, following massive die-offs, for example. The focus of this study will be to determine the impact of decomposing animal carcasses on nitrogen (N) levels in soil. As a result, this research will contribute to our understanding of terrestrial nutrient fluxes, and will inform or expand existing models through the inclusion of carcass-derived inputs. This research will provide foundational knowledge about a natural decomposition process and the abiotic and biotic controls on nutrient recycling. This knowledge has potential applications for agriculture (livestock mortality disposal) and forensic science (time since death estimations). This project will also provide interdisciplinary training for a postdoctoral scholar in microbial ecology, soil biogeochemistry, forensic anthropology, molecular biology, and bioinformatics and will support and undergraduate trainee and the development of new curriculum on soil and environmental science for Tennessee 4-H programs.

This research will provide a comprehensive evaluation of N flux in carcass decomposition hotpots. Preliminary research shows that microbial communities in soils below a decomposing carcass include both native soil taxa and introduced taxa from the carcass or insects that visit the carcass. These communities change in both composition and function, shifting to more anaerobic metabolic strategies over time. The objective of this research is to determine the fate of N in carcass decomposition hotspots, and elucidate how abiotic (temperature and oxygen) and biotic (decomposer community composition) factors control the fate of N. The objective will be met using a combination of lab mesocosms and field decomposition experiments with carcasses, manipulating abiotic and biotic controls and documenting the effects on N pools (nitrate, ammonia, nitrous oxide) and fluxes (nitrification and denitrification rates). Decomposer microbial communities will be examined using functional gene expression of N cycling genes and sequencing. This will reveal the types of microbes involved in decomposition and the mechanisms by which they are transforming nutrients. Ultimately this research will provide an understanding of the postmortem fate of vertebrate nutrients in terrestrial ecosystems.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ENERGY FOR SUSTAINABILITY | Award Amount: 8.00K | Year: 2016

The co-production of valuable chemicals and materials can improve the economic viability of bio-refinery processes that convert renewable biomass resources into biofuels. To serve as a forum for emerging bio-refinery concepts, the fourth scientific conference in the Frontiers in Biorefining series, titled Chemicals and Materials from Renewable Carbon, will be held during November 2016, at St. Simons Island, Georgia. This conference will assemble scientists and engineers from around the world to share recent progress, explore information needs, and present ideas that advance integrated bio-refinery concepts. A total of 90 participants from academia, government, and industry are expected. This award will support the travel of five graduate student researchers to present their original research at the conference, and to network with influential scientific and industrial researchers in the field of biorefining.

As research programs continue to build the body of fundamental science that create new bio-refinery concepts, a scientific conference to facilitate networking, exchange ideas, and further collaboration between scientists and research institutions is timely. The opening plenary session will highlight key developments in emerging bio-refinery concepts by invited scientists. The subsequent technical program emphasizes pathways for conversion of biomass to useful and valuable chemicals and materials in six parallel sessions and a student poster reception. Specific sessions are: Engineered feedstocks for the bio-refinery; Cell wall deconstruction and biomass fractionation; Catalytic conversion of lignin; Catalytic conversion of carbohydrates; Biochemical conversion of carbohydrates and lignin; Catalytic thermochemical conversion of whole biomass; The interface of biomass and petrochemicals. An open-access, peer-reviewed paper will summarize the activities at the conference in an effort to guide future research, funding opportunities, and policymaking in the fields of biorefining and bioenergy.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Enviro Health & Safety of Nano | Award Amount: 299.98K | Year: 2014

PI: Henry, Theodore B.
Proposal Number: 1435874
Institution: University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
Title: Effects of ingestion of manufactured nanoparticles on endogenous microbiota and pathogen resistance in rainbow trout

The objective of this proposal is to understand changes induced in the gut microbial community and on the host responses by nanoparticles (NPs). The overall hypothesis is that ingestion of nanomaterials, especially those that have anti-microbial properties, will change the microbiome (the community of microorganisms that share the body space) of trout resulting in adverse health outcomes. The investigators plan to investigate the changes in the microbiome resulting from the NP challenges, hypothesizing that these changes would lead to immunosuppression and increased opportunity for pathogen infection. The hypothesis will be tested with a bacterial pathogen challenge. The results of this investigation will provide new insights into the impact of NPs on the gut microbiome, which will have relevance not just for trout, but for humans and other organisms as well, since these fundamental host-microbiome interactions are conserved across all vertebrates. The data obtained from the proposed investigations can also be helpful for both industry and regulators as industry formulates new NPs with lower toxicity or regulators look to reduce exposure of humans and wildlife to NPs. The proposal includes excellent outreach and training of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as the involvement of high school students, in research. The research results can potentially guide regulatory agencies.

The model used will be the environmentally relevant and commercially significant rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss. The investigators will use high throughput sequencing to understand the changes in the microbiome, specifically, the effects of dietary exposure to NPs will be determined by global genomic sequencing of the microbial communities and quantitative PCR to target specific microbial species. Changes in abundance of the specific microbes will be evaluated among treatments and over time. In the same fish, gene expression profiling will be conducted to identify biomarker genes that respond to alterations in the microbial community composition. A subset of NP treatments will be selected to conduct longer-term exposure in fish that will subsequently be exposed to Y. ruckeri and the outcome of this bacterial challenge will be evaluated.

News Article | April 12, 2016
Site: phys.org

A new biotech trait currently in the development stage could provide improved control of thrips and plant bugs in cotton, according to researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

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