September 1, 2008
- Discovery of Plant Protein Holds Promise for Biofuel Production
- MAES Scientist to Create Genomic Clearinghouse for Biofuel Crops
- MAES Scientist Honored for Contributions to Furthering Scientific Community
- Write Winning Grants Workshop
- New Faculty Members
Scientists at Michigan State University have identified a new protein necessary for chloroplast development. The discovery could ultimately lead to plant varieties tailored specifically for biofuel production.
Chloroplasts, which are specialized compartments in plant cells, convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen ("fuel" for the plant) during photosynthesis. The newly discovered protein, trigalactosyldiacylglycerol 4, or TGD4, offers insight into how the process works.
"Nobody knew how this mechanism worked before we described this protein," said Christoph Benning, MAES biochemistry and molecular biology researcher. "This protein directly affects photosynthesis and how plants create biomass (stems, leaves and stalks) and oils."
Benning also is a member of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a partnership between MSU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct basic research aimed at solving some of the most complex problems in converting natural materials to energy.
The research, published in the August 2008 issue of the journal The Plant Cell, shows how TGD4 is essential for the plant to make chloroplasts. Plants that don't have the protein die before they can develop beyond the embryonic stage.
Understanding how TGD4 works may allow scientists to create plants that would be used exclusively to produce biofuels, possibly making the process more cost-effective. Most plants that are used to produce oils -- corn, soybeans and canola, for example -- accumulate the oil in their seeds.
"We've found that if the TGD4 protein is malfunctioning, the plant then accumulates oil in its leaves," Benning said. "If the plant is storing oil in its leaves, there could be more oil per plant, which could make production of biofuels such as biodiesel more efficient. More research is needed so we can completely understand the mechanism of operation."
Other members of the MSU research team are Changcheng Xu, research assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Jilian Fan, research technician; and Adam Cornish, biochemistry undergraduate student at the time of the research and current graduate student.
The research was funded by the Energy Department and the National Science Foundation. Benning's research also is supported by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.
For more information on MSU's biofuel and bioenergy research, visit the Office of Biobased Technologies Web site.
A Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station scientist is creating an easily accessible, Web-based database of genomic information on crops that can be used to make ethanol, thanks to a joint grant from the U.S. departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE).
"Ultimately, this will allow us to create better biofuel crops," said C. Robin Buell, MAES plant biology researcher. "Right now, about half of the biofuel crops don't have genomic databases, and the ones that do are in many different places and are annotated differently, which makes it difficult to compare and use the information."
Buell and Kevin Childs, postdoctoral researcher in her lab, will use the $540,000 grant to centralize the genomic databases, create uniform annotations (notes or descriptions of the genomes), provide data-mining and search tools, and provide a Web site for scientists from around the world to access the databases. They will also regularly update the information. Genomic databases contain information on the molecular biology and genetics of a particular species.
"Our biofuel genomic database portal will include information on any crop that can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol, including all the grasses -- such as corn, rice, maize and wheat -- and other biofuel species such as poplar, willow and pine," Buell explained. "This will save researchers a lot of effort, so we expect it to be a valuable resource for scientists at MSU and around the world."
"Cellulosic biofuels offer one of the best near- to mid-term alternatives we have, on the energy production side, to reduce reliance on imported oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to meet the nation's transportation energy needs," said Raymond Orbach, DOE undersecretary for science. "Developing cost-effective means of producing cellulosic biofuels on a national scale poses major scientific challenges -- these grants will help in developing the type of transformational breakthroughs needed in basic science to make this happen."
For more information on Michigan State University's biofuel and bioenergy research, visit the Office of Biobased Technologies Web site.
Decades of service and dedication to the scientific community have earned Kay Gross, MAES plant biologist and director of the MSU W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, a prestigious national ecology award.
Gross received the 2008 Distinguished Service Citation from the Ecological Society of America (ESA) on Aug. 4. The award recognizes Gross' commitment and service to the ESA as well as her dedication to furthering the scientific community.
"We are very pleased to see Kay recognized for her outstanding work and contributions," said MAES director Steve Pueppke. "She is a testament to the high caliber of researchers with whom we are privileged to work. Her presence and participation in an organization such as ESA increases the credibility and visibility of the strong environmental and ecological research conducted by the MAES and MSU."
Gross has been involved with the ESA since 1976 and has served as both vice president and president of the society. She has been broadly involved in the society and has made several contributions that still have large impacts today. Early in her career, Gross worked on establishing long-term archives of ecological data sets that are still used as a resource for ecologists today. She was also instrumental in the establishment of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, an organization that supports cross-disciplinary research by using existing data to address fundamental issues in ecology and allied fields and their application to management and policy.
More recently, she made a commitment to obtaining funding for postdoctoral students to continue their ecological research. Working with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Parks Foundation, Gross was successful in establishing a postdoctoral fellowship program that supported research in U.S. national parks. During the 6 years the program was in place, it supported 20 fellows on 2- to 3-year fellowships. Gross has continued to work with the ESA to find continuing funding for this program after Mellon Foundation support ended in 2006. Despite this setback, she is still committed to finding financial backing for postdoctoral scientists.
"This is a critical time in establishing a successful career, particularly for women scientists," Gross explained. "There is a gap between when students finish their doctorates and when they get jobs where there aren't many places for them to secure funding. I want to create more resources for these students so that they can write their own proposals and fund their own research."
Gross is also a university distinguished professor on the faculty of the MSU Department of Plant Biology.
Gross feels honored to represent MSU within the ESA.
"It's quite an honor to be selected for this award," Gross said. "It is very important for MSU to be involved in ESA. We have very strong programs in ecology and evolutionary biology and environmental sciences at MSU. Having faculty members such as me in national leadership positions raises the visibility of MSU programs in these areas and brings attention to just how good we are."
The MAES Preawards Office is pleased to present the widely acclaimed Write Winning Grants workshop for MAES and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources faculty members on Dec. 16, 2008. Check-in begins at 8 a.m., and the seminar runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The workshop will be held in 1410 Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building. The cost of the workshop is $75.
Click here for the registration form. The form can be printed and then mailed or faxed to the MAES office.
Registration begins Sept. 2 for MAES and CANR faculty members. Other MSU faculty members may register starting Sept. 22 on a first-come, first-served basis.
Forms are due to Candace Ebbinghaus in the MAES office, 109 Agriculture Hall, by Oct. 31, 2008.
The workshop will comprehensively address both practical and conceptual aspects that are important to the process of proposal writing. It's designed for faculty members who have had some exposure to writing grant applications, either through training/mentoring or personal experience.
The program is designed to meet the needs of the audience -- i.e., to emphasize the granting agencies of greatest interest to its members, including federal, private and institutional sources. Emphasis will be given to such things as idea development, identification of the most appropriate granting agency, how to write for reviewers, and tips and strategies of proven value in presenting an applicant's case to reviewers.
Participants will be taught to organize their presentations into a linear progression of logic that leads reviewers through their applications. The seminar stresses that applicants are writing for two different audiences: the assigned reviewers, who have read the application in its entirety, and those who have read little if anything before the review meeting. Strategies designed to develop advocacy and a fundable priority score from both audiences will presented.
Every participant will receive The Grant Writer's Handbook. Participants also may select only ONE of the workbooks below:
- NIH Workbook: The PHS SF424 application format and electronic submission through Grants.gov are now required for most NIH grant applications. This workbook emphasizes the principles and fundamentals of good proposal writing and includes tips and strategies that kept the authors continuously funded by NIH throughout their research careers. The workbook provides examples, and the reader is asked to make a comparable response in his/her area of research interest.
- NSF Workbook
- Successful Proposals to Any Agency: Most agency grant applications contain the same sections -- only the names of the sections and the order in which they appear in the application are different. In addition, the principles and fundamentals of good proposal writing are the same for all agencies. This "generic" workbook can be used to write a proposal to any granting agency - it walks the applicant through the preparation of each section. It's meant to be complemented by specific instructions from the targeted agency.
- USDA Workbook: Applicants submitting proposals to the USDA will need the USDA Workbook, which includes a guide for completing sections that need to be uploaded into the new SF424 electronic format.
Direct questions to Candace Ebbinghaus at 517-355-0123, ext. 112 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The MAES is pleased to welcome five new faculty members.Alison Bauer, assistant professor of pathobiology and diagnostic investigation and a member of the Center for Integrative Toxicology, became affiliated with the MAES in August. Her research focuses on environmental toxins that can affect the respiratory system, specifically particulate matter and ozone. Bauer is investigating a component of particulate matter called vanadium pentoxide as a lung tumor promoter. She is also studying the role of the natural immune system in ozone-induced lung injury and inflammation.
Before coming to MSU in 2006, Bauer served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology Centers for Health Research from 2000 to 2002 and as a National Institutes of Health intramural training fellow from 2002 to 2006 at Research Triangle Park, N.C. She received her doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in 2000 and her bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Pennsylvania State University in 1994.
Sophan Chhin was named assistant professor of forestry in July. Chhin specializes in silviculture and forest ecosystem productivity. His research examines fundamental environmental and human controls of forest stand productivity and their efficacy related to the sustainable management of forest resources. Chhin is studying how silvicultural management practices affect changes in physical (e.g., ring width, density) and chemical (e.g., cellulose and lignin content) wood properties within a given year.
He also is interested in exploring possible relationships between wood properties and past climate and their application in projecting wood properties under various future climate change scenarios. Chhin believes this research will have implications for optimizing silvicultural practices and the production of bioenergy and biofuels in Michigan's developing bioeconomy.
Chhin received his doctorate in forest biology and management from the University of Alberta in 2008, his master's degree in ecology from the University of Manitoba in 2003 and his bachelor's degree in biology and biochemistry from the University of Winnipeg in 2001.Amirpouyan Nejadhashemi was named assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering in August. His research focuses on the description, analysis and prevention of non-point source pollution at laboratory, field, watershed and regional scales. Nejadhashemi's research interests also include watershed/water quality modeling and analysis, surface water-groundwater interactions, artificial intelligence, geographic information systems, decision support tools and object-oriented programming.
Before coming to MSU, Nejadhashemi worked at Kansas State University from 2007 to 2008 as a member of an interdepartmental, interagency watershed management team, providing technical support and overseeing various modeling tools to track pollutant load reduction activities. He received his doctorate in biological resources engineering from the University of Maryland-College Park in 2006 and his master's and bachelor's degrees in agricultural engineering from the University of Tehran, Iran, in 1997 and 1994, respectively.
James G. Wagner, assistant professor of pathobiology and diagnostic investigation, became affiliated with the MAES in August. His research focus is respiratory toxicology and pathobiology as it relates to the mechanisms of inflammation and immunology. Wagner's research activities include investigating the health effects of environmental and occupational exposures to airborne toxins, biogenic dusts (material produced by the action of living organisms) and particulate matter, especially during the aggravation of asthma by these pollutants, and evaluating the effects of anti-inflammatory and nutritional therapies for allergic airway disease. His other research interests include cardiopulmonary responses after exposure to environmental pollutants and the role of diet, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as a risk factor for asthma and adverse airway responses.
After serving a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences postdoctoral fellowship studying the molecular mechanisms of ozone-induced pulmonary injury from 2000 to 2001, Wagner joined the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation at MSU. He is currently a councilor of the Inhalation and Respiratory Specialty Section of the National Society of Toxicology (SOT), a former councilor of Michigan SOT (2002-04) and an active member of the American Thoracic Society. Wagner received his doctorate in pharmacology/toxicology, his master's degree in logistics management and his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Michigan State University in 1998, 1992 and 1984, respectively.
April Zeoli was named assistant professor of criminal justice in August. Her research focuses on public policies to prevent intimate partner and youth violence. Zeoli is currently investigating whether laws designed to limit minors' access to alcohol affect the youth homicide perpetration rate. Her research interests also include the effects of public policies designed to keep firearms out of the hands of perpetrators of intimate partner violence and policies that affect the availability of alcohol on the state or local level.
Zeoli received her doctorate in health and public policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 2007, and her master's degree in public health policy and her bachelor's degree in women's studies from the University of Michigan in 2000 and 1998, respectively.