Up on the roof: Greenhouse studies tackle climate change, cancer
Outside the temperature was a chilly 22 degrees, but on the roof of the Life Sciences Building, it was nice and toasty as senior biology major Keera Lowe set up a study to determine if a fungus can help American beach grass survive and grow.
Lowe's research is one of several studies growing in the biology department's greenhouse.
American beach grass is a dune builder, said Sarah Emery, the professor with whom Lowe is doing her independent research seminar this semester.
"It's one of the first plant species to colonize sandy areas and holds sand in place with its root system."
Emery's research interest is restoration of Great Lakes sand dune plant systems.
"I have a big project that's just getting started to see whether this fungus can help with the tolerance of these plants to potential climate change scenarios. In the Great Lakes region predictions are increased drought stress, increased summer temperatures and increased storm activity over the next 50 to 100 years," she said.
Lowe's work is designed to help her professor know the effects of what scientists believe to be a "beneficial" fungus on the grass, and also to know whether nitrogen availability affects how beneficial the fungus is to the plant. The fungus, an endophyte, lives within the grass.
Just in the beginning process of setting up her experiment, Lowe spent the morning transplanting small beach grass plants into tall containers that will permit a strong root system to develop. She counted the leaves, measured them and recorded the data. Then she trimmed off the dead leaves-the only time she'll do that, she said.
Every week, Lowe explained, she'll count the number of leaves and measure them. She'll fertilize half of those plants over the course of the semester with water-based nitrogen fertilizer and then look to see whether the benefits of the fungus disappear.
Emery and Lowe's work takes up the majority of the greenhouse space right now, but it is not the only research growing in the greenhouse.
Biologist David Schultz is extracting anacardic acid from geraniums for research in several areas: pest control, cancer treatment and petroleum replacement.
Anacardic acid is a natural pest control for the geranium plant, protecting it from aphids and spider mites. Schultz said he has found that it also is effective against larger pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle and tobacco horn worm.
He also has found, with Carrie Klinge, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, that purified anacardic acid can inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells without affecting normal cells.
And, in a project just in its beginning stages, he is looking at how to produce fatty acids that may be used as a replacement for petroleum and also at whether plants that do not normally produce anacardic acid can be modified to do so.
Schultz's research also takes place outside the greenhouse in rooftop pots and in controlled environment chambers. There he is growing blueberry plants for a project he has undertaken with pharmacology and toxicology professor Ramesh Gupta to identify factors that can aid in prevention and/or treatment of breast and lung cancers.