Weekly post by Audrey Murphy

As we close on the final week of the 1st Annual OUTPACE Summer Research Institute, I will start by reflecting on what we have accomplished during the past six weeks. During week one, we were introduced to plant pathology and had our first trip to the gardens. We also spent some time reviewing basic microbiological techniques that we have used throughout the remainder of OUTPACE. Week two began with a reflection on our visit to the gardens, along with an introduction into bacteria and the various ways they infect plants. We also did our first experiment, infection of Pseudomonas syringae onArabidopsis thaliana plants. During week three, we began to learn about fungi, while monitoring the progression of disease from the Pseudomonas syringae infection. At the end of week three, we began our second experiment, inoculation ofAlternaria brassicicola on Arabidopsis thaliana plants. For week four we quantified the results from the previous experiment, while also being introduced into phytopathogenic viruses. During week five, students were asked to bring samples of infected plant material to the lab. From there, we prepared plates to grow the various fungi and bacteria. Samples were also cataloged for further use in future OUTPACE experiments. (We had a great time with the liquid nitrogen!) That brings me to the final week of OUTPACE, week six.

Monday July 7, 2014

This week of OUTPACE began with a trip to the gardens to collect samples. We then returned to the lab to plate the samples of bacteria and fungi. We also used ID kits to test for certain viruses.

Tuesday July 8, 2014

A lecture on arthropods was presented in order to give us an introduction into the various relationships that exist among both plants and arthropods. We were given further insight into examples of arthropods that are beneficial to the plant, along with a variety of examples that are harmful. Check out this parasitoid wasp!

The wasp (helpful to the plant) uses a caterpillar (harmful to the plant) as a host in which to lay its eggs. The larvae will feed on the caterpillar until they reach a stage in their life cycle when they are ready to break out. The larvae will then form silk cocoons for protection. This is further aided by the wounded caterpillar, which also forms a web around the larvae as an extra layer of protection. Eventually, the caterpillar will starve to death while protecting the larvae. The larvae are then free to hatch. We all found this to be a pretty interesting relationship. This lecture emphasized the complex relationships among organisms.

Wednesday July 9, 2014

During a previous lecture, the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMO) was brought up. In response to the interest expressed by the OUTPACE participants, we had a discussion about GMOs. For this discussion, each student was instructed to prepare a five minute lecture on this topic, along with their opinion on consumption of GMOs. During the discussion, some interesting perspectives were brought up.

Alison began the discussion with a power-point, giving a thorough background on GMOs. She emphasized the fact that the FDA does not require labeling of GMO products.

Next up was Darion, who also gave a power-point presentation. Darion provided statistics on the top ten crops that are genetically modified. Some of those included corn, soybean, and squash.

Brenna provided information on the potential for horizontal gene transfer among these genetically modified organisms. She also discussed various short term studies that have been performed, while emphasizing the difficulty of tracking long-term effects on GMO food product consumption.

Cody also prepared a power-point to present. Cody talked about the Bt toxin; this toxin forms pores in the intestinal tract of insects. An interesting point that was brought up was the concern that some insects are beneficial to the plant.

For her part of the discussion, Maggie provided insight into the amount of information that we do not know about GMO products.

It is also important to note that GMOs do have positive goals. For example, by creating crops that require less water, this aids countries who do not have adequate rainfall.

Thursday July 10, 2014

Dr. Mukhtar lectured about plant disease management. The lecture started off by presenting the numerous ways that pathogens can spread amongst crops. Wind and rain are two examples. One method of eradication that was discussed was the need to remove infected plant material. When a leaf or portion of the plant is observed to have been infected, it is best to eliminate that portion in order to reduce the ability of the pathogen to spread. Some ways we talked about that would aid in disease prevention were to sterilize the soil before use and use certified seeds. Using seeds that are not certified brings the risk of planting seeds that already carry some sort of pathogen. These measures allow one to take measures to prevent spreading of disease. Another preventative measure mentioned was to plant things that produce odors. This can help prevent insects from attacking the plant. This was seen in the gardens; several gardeners planted marigolds near their plants in order to deter insects.

Another point that was emphasized was that there are pathogens that are known to attack several host plants. So, it is often beneficial to plant these crops at a distance from each other. If these crops are in close proximity, infection of one crop makes it easier for others to be infected by that pathogen. This risk is reduced when they are at a considerable distance from each other. This discussion correlated with what we have been learning from our trips to the gardens.

Friday July 11, 2014

To end the 1st Annual OUTPACE Summer Research Institute, we had a celebration. Each student was given a certificate to recognize their participation. Dr. Mukhtar also shared some excerpts from the “letter to a colleague” students prepared earlier in the week. For this assignment, students were to prepare an email addressed to a colleague to inform them of the OUTPACE program. We had ice cream, brownies, cookies, and fruit to enjoy.

OUTPACE2014 is officially completed! Thanks to all for the fabulous six weeks filled with learning and fun! Please check back next summer to follow the adventures of OUTPACE 2015!

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