I had a great time checking out some beautiful spring wildflowers on the Tennessee cedar glades this month during a visit to Middle Tennessee State University. Thanks to Ashley Morris and MTSU for a wonderful visit!
We are super excited about a new outreach effort in partnership with the St. Louis Science Center (SLSC) and The Land Institute (Salina, KS). SLSC has an awesome agriculture exhibit - GROW - which opened in June 2016. We are germinating seeds of perennial crop candidates kernza, Silphium integrifolium, and an alfalfa hybrid, for installation in the GROW exhibit. These species have been identified by The Land Institute as promising species for perennial crop development because of their seed attributes and deep root systems. The plants in the GROW exhibit will serve as a launching point for conversations about the role of plant biodiversity in the future of agriculture, natural systems agriculture based on the development of an agricultural system that mimics natural ecosystems (like the North American prairie), and how perennial plants, with their longer lifespan and extensive root systems, can contribute to soil conservation and sustainable agriculture. This outreach effort is part of a larger collaborative project between Saint Louis University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and The Land Institute which is focused on building a botanical foundation for perennial polyculture agriculture. Thank you to Claudia Ciotir, Sterling Herron, Maddie Earnest, Hannah Reinhart, Lee DeHaan, Brandon Schlautman, and David Van Tassel for assistance with this work.
As part of our NSF funded project on grafted grapevines we have partnered with Forrest Keeling Nursery to construct an experimental grafted population. The vines have been grafted and are now beginning the process of growing together.
A big thanks to Peter Cousins, Principal Scientist for Viticulture at the E. & J. Gallo Winery for visiting Saint Louis University this week! Peter is a world expert on the grapevine genus Vitis. He worked for the US Department of Agriculture for 12 years before joining Gallo as a plant breeder. Peter is a senior collaborator on our NSF funded grapevine project, and is helping us to set up training opportunities in the grape and wine industry for project participants. In addition, Peter is recruiting students for Gallo's internship program. Peter gave a great presentation about internship opportunities at the Gallo Winery to about 25 SLU students.
More information about internships at Gallo is available here.
The Land Institute held its annual Prairie Festival September 23 - 25, 2016 in Salina, Kansas. It was a wonderful celebration of the founding and incredible growth of The Land Institute. Speakers chronicled the development of a strong community of people that have united around a central idea presented in Wes Jackson's 1980 book New Roots for Agriculture and subsequent papers - that agricultural systems should mimic natural ecosystems that consist largely of perennial plants growing in polyculture which have evolved over millennia as resilient, sustainable systems. Presenters included former and present Land Institute board members, Land Institute scientists, and scholars from across the country. Four members of our group attended the Prairie Festival this year: Allison, Claudia (SLU postdoc), Sterling (SLU MS student), and Samantha (SLU undergrad).
The event was covered by the Salina Journal here.
The schedule is available here.
Saturday presentations are available here (including Allison's update on the inventory project).
Sunday presentations (including Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Fred Iutzi) are available here.
20th Eucarpia General Congress "Plant Breeding: The Art of Bringing Science to Life" Zurich Switzerland, August 2016
The 20th Eucarpia General Congress, entitled “Plant Breeding: The Art of Bringing Science to Life”, drew 432 members to the ETH Zurich in Switzerland. The Congress started with inspiring introduction emphasizing several themes: 1) feeding a growing population in a changing climate in a sustainable way is a significant global challenge; 2) vital relationship between basic and applied plant science, 3) reconciling agriculture with the environment, including organic agriculture and the use of cover crops; 4) that plant genetic resources are the raw materials for plant breeding and must be conserved and made accessible to breeders; 5) that there are a range of approaches breeders are using to develop new crops including conventional breeding, mutation-based breeding, and genetic modification; 6) that there is a need to train the next generation of breeders; and 7) that federal and global regulations are impacting activities of plant breeding including those dealing with food safety, plant variety patents/intellectual property, technologies used in plant breeding, labeling products, and discovery of, access to and transfer of wild materials for breeding. From this introduction it was clear that all attendees had a singular focus: to harness natural plant biodiversity and cutting edge research tools to develop high-quality, affordable, safe plants that can be grown as sustainably as possible. It was also clear that there is extensive consideration and experimentation taking place on how best to do this. Postdoc Claudia Ciotir and I attended the Eucarpia meeting with three specific goals in mind 1) to get the word out about the work of The Land Institute and the Perennial Agriculture Project Global Inventory (PAPGI) through presentations; 2) to meet European plant breeders and germplasm conservation scientists; and 3) to learn more about global plant genomic resources and their accessibility. It was a great meeting!
Comparative analysis of perennial and annual legume congeners: great work by SLU Master's student Sterling Herron
Sterling Herron spent the summer at The Land Institute in Salina Kansas investigating seed traits, germination, and growth rates of perennial and annual members of Glycine, Lupinus, and Phaseolus. We are working with David Van Tassel and other scientists at The Land Institute to test hypothesis about why annuals herbaceous plants, but not perennial herbaceous plants, were domesticated in some of these genera.
UPDATE: Sterling is back in Salina this fall measuring massive growth of perennial soybeans and root/shoot biomass ratios. Keep up the great work, Sterling!
The Botanical Society of America partners with Saint Louis University to offer student internships in plant science outreach and education
The Botanical Society of America (BSA – botany.org), based in St. Louis, MO, founded in 1893, is a "not-for-profit" 501(c)(3) membership society whose mission is to promote botany. To accomplish this mission, the objectives of the Society are to: sustain and provide improved formal and informal education about plants; encourage basic plant research; provide expertise, direction, and position statements concerning plants and ecosystems; and foster communication within the professional botanical community, and between botanists and the rest of humankind through publications, meetings, and committees.
In pursuit of its mission, the BSA administers the PlantingScience program (PlantingScience.org), a project funded in part by the National Science Foundation and supported by 13 other plant science societies. PlantingScience is an online learning community in which scientists actively provide mentorship to student lead teams as they work through the scientific process of designing and thinking through their own 3-9 week research projects.
Two Saint Louis University Biology students, Judith Bailey and Samantha Selby, worked as interns in the PlantingScience program in Fall 2015. The internship offered hands-on experience to university students with interests in science, botany, biology and/or education to help facilitate the online science mentoring community. This excellent opportunity facilitated experiences with best practices in science communication and mentoring, behind-the-scenes view of managing an online community, working with a variety of teachers and scientists around the world, and doing science outreach that contributes to increasing science interest and understanding in middle and high school students. As an intern, you will serve for a minimum of one semester. Intern responsibilities included entry and management of data related to students, teachers, and scientists involved in the project, and facilitation of online interactions between PlantingScience students and teachers and their scientist mentors. Interns communicated with program participants via e-mail, online forums, and/or Skype videoconference. Additional tasks included assistance with program promotion via social and print media.
Many thanks to Dr. Catrina Adams, BSA Education Director, for partnering with SLU in this training opportunity and to Judith and Samantha for outstanding contributions to the BSA.
Lab members Allison, Sterling Herron, and Chelsea Pretz traveled to The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas this weekend to attend the Prairie Festival. We enjoyed a great Friday night party and terrific talks on Saturday and Sunday. A major highlight was hearing about all of the updates on perennial Sorghum, intermediate wheatgrass, Silphium, and perennial wheat from The Land Institute scientists. Allison gave an update about the global inventory project, a collaboration between the Perennial Agriculture Project of the Land Institute and the Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation, Saint Louis University, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. We are also grateful to David Van Tassel for leading an early morning prairie walk/prairie plant id walk - it was awesome!! Thanks to The Land Institute for a great weekend - and mark your calendar for the next Prairie Festival September 23 - 25, 2016! Botanists please send corrections on taxonomy in photo captions below to Allison - thank you!
In 2013 we installed an experimental vineyard with multiple accessions of two grapevine species used for rootstocks, Vitis riparia and V. rupestris. Over the last three years we have collected leaf morphology, ionomic, and gene expression data in this vineyard - some of these data were presented at the Botany meetings two weeks ago (read more about this on the previous lab blog post). Grapes LOVE the St. Louis climate and grow vigorously here. Over the last three years many wonderful people have helped us keep these crazy grapes in line and I am so grateful for their help (the list includes MBG staff Chris Hereford and June Hutson and volunteers; SLU graduate students Steven Callen, Laura Klein, Alex Linan, and Sterling Herron; SLU undergraduate students Chad Chapnick, Cassandra Kitchen, Matthew Greg - and many others - thank you!). Today Sterling and I were lucky enough to have a crew of five MBG volunteers to help out, Anne (x2), Harold, Jack, and Tom. You guys were awesome - thanks so much!
Miller Lab members