Grad Students Receive CAFE Research Activity Awards

On November 12, four graduate students from Horticulture, from left, Mohammad Alsabri, Chelsea Maupin, Tajbir Raihan and Jia Tan, were awarded CAFE Graduate Student Research Activity Awards to enhance their research projects. Awards are made on a competitive basis by CAFE's Research Office, thanks to the Phil Richards Endowment Fund, with the objective of enhancing excellence and innovation in research. The grad students are working on the following research projects:

Alsabri: "Herbicides are an important tool in modern agriculture to eliminate weeds that will compete with main crops; however, weeds often develop resistance to herbicides and we are therefore continually searching for novel ways to attack these undesirable plants threatening our food supply. For my dissertation research, I am searching for novel herbicides from an unexpected source - the microorganisms living within plants! This funding will be used to identify what substances are being produced by a plant growth inhibiting bacterial strain that I identified during my project."

Maupin: “Temperature and light are limiting factors of late-season lettuce production for growers in central Kentucky. The funds from this award will be used to purchase soil heating cables and grow lights to investigate these technologies’ potential to increase the rate of degree-day accumulation (i.e. decrease time to harvest) and increase daily light integral (DLI) of winter-grown lettuce in high tunnels. This funding provides the opportunity to expand my graduate student research beyond that of the Kentucky Specialty Crop Block Grant awarded to my advisor. Additionally, my farmer collaborators are interested in the potential of supplemental lighting and soil heating cables to improve their winter greens production. I am grateful for the award and looking forward to doing this project, which will become an independent chapter in my master’s thesis.”

Raihan: "Epigenetic mechanisms (i.e. DNA methylation) have been associated to the regulation of gene expression. I have recently generated and phenotyped an epimutant soybean population by exogenously demethylating 300 plants. We have found that variability of important agronomic traits such as flowering time, plant height, canopy size and seed composition is positively correlated with the severity of the demethylation treatment. This makes this population an ideal tool for the identification of genes controlling traits of interest. To achieve this, we are looking for epialleles which abundance is correlated to traits of interest. The awarded funds will be used to validate identified genes using gene expression analysis”

Tan: “Understanding how crops adapt to environmental stress is paramount to developing new cultivars. We hypothesize that changes in gene expression in response to environmental insult could be regulated by changes in DNA methylation levels across regions of chromosomes containing multiple genes. In silico analysis of the chromosomal location of stress-induced differentially expressed genes has shown evidence of such genes forming separate clusters of over and under expressed genes. This award will be used to conduct whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS) to study changes in DNA methylation induced by drought and heat stress in grapevine.”

Congratulations to these graduate students on their awards!