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March 2018

With spring comes Graduate Student grant proposals

While Northeast SARE Farmer and Partnership grants are due in the fall, spring is the time is for Graduate Student grants! This program provides support for high-quality, applied research led by young scientists. We thought you might like to take a peek at highlights of a few recently completed projects, below.
Video credit
Video credit: NSF Maine EPSCoR

UMaine student explores temperature tolerances of kelp

As a sea vegetable, kelp may help Northeast acquaculturists diversify their businesses and contribute to this multibillion-dollar industry. Charlotte Quigley, a PhD student at the University of Maine, used her Northeast SARE Graduate Student grant to study Alaria esculenta, a kelp that is of interest to U.S. growers due to its market potential, nutritious and palatable characteristics, low iodine content, and ability to be used in a variety of cooking applications. Because coastal sea surface temperatures are predicted to increase, Charlotte was particularly interested in testing the kelp’s tolerance to temperature fluctuations. She examined the physiological responses of A. esculenta seedstocks and found that they are capable of adapting to warming water. As a result, researchers now have a better understanding of the temperature tolerance of A. esculenta grown in the Gulf of Maine. Charlotte predicts that kelp may be a viable candidate for sea vegetable aquaculture now and into the future.

Rutgers student traces genetic trail of BMSB

Photo credit: Rafael Valentin
Knowing that early detection is the most effective strategy to control invasive species, Rutgers University PhD student Rafael Valentin used his Northeast SARE Graduate Student grant to explore a technique using insect DNA to track the brown marmorated stinkbug (BMSB, Halyomorpha halys). Within the past 20 years, BMSB has become a devastating pest across the mid-Atlantic, causing significant damage to a wide range of crops. Rafael’s research looked at adapting environmental DNA (eDNA) techniques used in acquatic settings for use in peach and vegetable crops for nascent BMSB populations. By testing crop surfaces, topsoil beneath crops, and crop wash water, he was able to determine that BMSB leave a genetic trail detectable in both laboratory and field trials. Results suggest that eDNA surveillance outperformed traditional monitoring practices (like black light and pheromone traps) for early detection of BMSB. Although more research is needed--including establishing appropriate detection thresholds and developing eDNA technology into a practical, cost-effective diagnostic tool—Rafael’s research results shows the promise of this rapid detection method for nascent exotic insect pest populations.
Photo credit: Amy Barkley

Penn State student studies poultry bedding alternatives

In the Northeast, wood shavings are the predominant bedding material on which commercial broiler chickens are raised. Because their availability and cost fluctuates and new concerns have emerged around biosecurity risks of transporting bedding to and from farms, Pennsylvania State University Master of Science student Amy Barkley used her Northeast SARE Graduate Student grant to explore switchgrass and willow as locally-sourced, renewable alternatives for broiler bedding. Performance of the bedding, litter, and birds, as well as bird welfare parameters were tested. Amy found that both options performed well to keep the birds clean and dry, while protecting them from injury over the course of a single-cycle broiler grow-out. She also concluded that these green materials can be provided at price points similar to softwood shavings while offering soil quality and other benefits. However, several factors need further consideration before adopting these alternatives on farm, including attention to density, particle size and shape to optimize performance; the need to meet integrator standards; and requirements of specialty harvesting equipment to process willow bedding.

UVM student discovers diversity of Staphylococcus on dairy farms

Photo credit: Robert Mugabi
Coagulase-negative staphylococci (CNS) are the most common causes of mastitis, the top contributor of production losses on dairy farms. For artisanal cheese makers, CNS not only pose threats of mastitis but also may contribute to surface bacteria on milking equipment and in cheese production facilities and are possible reservoirs of antimicrobial resistance. On the flip side, some CNS species have been found to be desirable in cheese-making and others are thought to benefit udder health. University of Vermont PhD student Robert Mugabi conducted his Northeast SARE Graduate Student grant to gain a better understanding of Staphylococcus epidemiology and ecology on artisanal cheese farms, with the goal of identifying practices that may prevent persistence of pathogens while encouraging beneficial microbes. Using molecular techniques, Robert quantified the diversity of Staphylococcus bacteria on 5 farms. He found a total of 1052 staphylococci isolated from different on-farm sources, and identified 27 separate Staphylococcus species. His findings suggest that most bacteria-causing mastitis on these farms may be originating from cow skin surfaces, supporting the importance of cow teat end disinfection and hygiene to reduce mastitis cases.

Spread the word!

If you know a graduate student at any college, university, or veterinary school within the Northeast region who might be interested in applying for a Graduate Student Grant, please encourage them to visit our website for application instructions.
The Northeast SARE region is made up of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Northeast SARE programs are offered to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.

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