in the College,
of Magnaporthe oryzae
will have significance
beyond rice blast.
What they learn
them to understand
in the long run—
no penalties to pay—
in their communities,
like 4-H and FFA.
a potential alternative
all crop species.
Potter called it
but is such an
that it’s been
published in the
the nutritional status
of a child with autism,
you have to
related to nutrition
learn important values
about eating well
and staying healthy.
The Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station annual report provides an accounting of funding and showcases some of our more than 200 active research and service projects that are dedicated to improving Kentucky’s economy, environment, and quality of life. A complete report of projects is on the web at http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ar/ar122/ar122.pdf.
The experiment station works with 13 departments in the College, the Cooperative Extension Service, and our many stakeholders to set research priorities. In wide-ranging research, such as the projects involving bio-based products and environmental compliance highlighted in this magazine issue, we explore new horizons.
We work hard to bring in the grants and contracts that fuel our work. Collectively, College faculty and staff garnered almost $24 million in external awards for grants and contracts in 2009, nearly equal to the state investment of almost $29 million. Federal Capacity Funds of $5.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for agricultural and forestry research provide support for a vast network of research farms and facilities. This is a key partnership between the USDA and the states; matching state funds assure that state-specific needs are addressed. The horse and tobacco industries—not national priorities, but important to Kentucky’s economy, nonetheless—are prime examples of Kentucky’s unique research needs that are supported by capacity funds.
A Matter of Trust
The experiment station system was designed in 1888 to discover and evaluate new technologies to improve agricultural production and meet consumer needs. Our station succeeds because of facilities dedicated to research and demonstration and our far-sighted scientists, who provide the unbiased evaluations that our stakeholders have come to rely on. With locations in Princeton, Eden Shale, Quicksand, and Central Kentucky, we support all of Kentucky’s crops and animal operations. Our wheat collaborative, a public-private partnership based at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, has increased wheat yields and created a pipeline for rapid release of new genetic lines.
Animal agriculture dominates Kentucky’s farm economy, so we have operations for beef, horses, poultry, dairy, swine, and sheep research. Kentucky’s commercial animal operations face challenges, among them environmental compliance, urban encroachment, energy costs, and outdated facilities. The experiment station looks for innovative solutions to these problems; an example is our extensive work in composting large animal mortalities, on which we partner with the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, Kentucky Division of Conservation, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, formerly known as the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center, represents another important service to Kentucky, and extensive renovations will be completed this year. The center serves a key role in preventing disease outbreaks through early diagnosis and statewide surveillance. The College appreciates the support from the General Assembly and many stakeholders from the animal industries.
The College received more than $5 million in gifts for research in 2009, many of which were provided to the Veterinary Science Department for research conducted in the Gluck Equine Research Center and on our research farms. Key stakeholders, led by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, donated funds for a new reproduction research facility. These stakeholders recognize that the College can have the best equine reproduction center in the world, and we certainly appreciate the trust they place in our faculty and staff.
The Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station will continue to strive to keep the confidence of our stakeholders and to combine all sources of funding to provide the best service for our Commonwealth.
Nancy M. Cox
Associate Dean for Research
Director, Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station
S-129 Agricultural Science Center
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40546-0091
UK plant pathologists Mark Farman and Michael Goodin are on a mission of discovery, exploring a New World that most will never see for themselves. They’re in the “Isabella and Columbus” stage, in Goodin’s words, where they know there’s something interesting out there, or in this case “in” there, but they don’t know exactly what it is yet.
Mark Farman and
That New World is Magnaporthe oryzae, the rice blast fungus, the islands of discovery are proteins secreted by the fungus during penetration and infection, and the end result—though still years away—could be new methods of fighting the devastating disease.
Rice is one of the world’s most important food crops, with more than half the global population consuming it every day. Though the plant has evolved methods for combating scores of other fungi, blast destroys enough rice each year to feed 60 million people.
Farman was integral in sequencing the fungus’ more than 12,000 genes. Now that he has a blueprint of the pathogen’s genome, he and three other researchers—Goodin, Barbara Valent from Kansas State University and Cari Soderlund of the University of Arizona—are deep into a pioneering study to catalog when secreted protein genes are turned on and where the resulting proteins end up within the rice cell.
This is important, because knowing where a protein localizes may lead the researchers to defining its role in the infection process.
Farman estimates that the fungus can produce more than 900 secreted proteins, of which more than 50 percent have unknown functions. He said classical genetic studies conducted in the past to address these proteins’ roles have been unsuccessful. Farman and his collaborators hope to address this issue by examining not only when the fungus makes each protein, but also where the proteins localize when the fungus is growing inside a rice cell.
“Such knowledge may provide insights into what the proteins are doing to aid the pathogenic process,” Farman said.
During the first two years of the three-year project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farman and his team have had several surprises, one of which involved the tips of the long fingers, or hyphae, that fungi use to penetrate their hosts. Because Farman’s team studies the fungus in contact with living rice cells, they discovered that these penetration structures, or appressoria, need to be in contact with a rice cell for certain secreted protein genes to be switched on.
“This tells us that there’s some kind of signal coming from a natural rice leaf that’s telling the fungus’ cell wall degrading enzyme to turn on,” he said. “This finding is significant because most of the previous gene expression studies looked at appressoria developing on artificial surfaces.”
Farman said their exploration of Magnaporthe oryzae will have significance beyond rice blast. What they learn from their mission of discovery might enable them to understand other fungi that cause diseases such as blue mold in tobacco and rust diseases of wheat and other cereal crops.
A Market for Clean Water
The 1972 Clean Water Act called for the elimination of the discharge of pollutants into the country’s watersheds, but three decades later, in the Kentucky River basin alone, contaminants make 46 percent of the waters that have been assessed unsuitable for human recreation, according to the 2009 Kentucky River Watershed Watch Sampling Results report.
“Companies are facing potential penalties if they don’t control the water quality,” said Wuyang Hu, UK associate professor in agricultural economics. “And how do they do that? They either upgrade their facility, spending on whatever they need to improve the discharged water quality, or they find another solution.”
Agricultural producers can be nonpoint source polluters, meaning stream contamination happens across a broad area, often as a result of runoff. This is different than point source pollution, which originates from a single, traceable spot, such as a company’s discharge pipe.
With their water quality credits feasibility study, Wuyang Hu, Jack Schieffer, and Angelos Pagoulatos hope to be part of the solution in cleaning up waterways in the Kentucky River Basin.
Hu, fellow UK agricultural economists Angelos Pagoulatos and Jack Schieffer, and Brian Lee, associate professor in landscape architecture, are working on a two-year project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the feasibility of trading water quality credits within the Kentucky River Basin.
Trading, according to Hu, could maintain water quality, but also improve the current system.
The EPA initiated a National Water Quality Trading Policy in 2003, in which point source polluters can buy credits from nonpoint source polluters. The policy created a less expensive way for industries and cities to meet the Clean Water Act’s requirements. Since then, the concept has been adopted in various forms around the country.
Under the policy, agricultural producers who use best management practices, such as vegetative buffer zones, fencing, and permeable wash pads, to reduce stream pollution can accumulate credits. A nearby industry or wastewater treatment plant can purchase those credits to counteract the nutrients it adds to the watershed. The point source polluter saves money in the long run—no expensive equipment to purchase, no penalties to pay—and the farmer derives income from the exchange.
Lee and Corey Wilson, ’08, are providing geospatial analyses in the Kentucky River Basin to indicate where emission credit might be needed and likely places to provide those credits. Hu, Pagoulatos, and Schieffer will then translate that information into water quality credits. By surveying a representative sample of both industry and agriculture, the economists will determine possible matches, based not only on quantity, but also on social matching.
“If a producer isn’t in it to sell, and a company isn’t in it to buy, it’s not going to work,” Hu said. “So we have to merge all the physical, scientific information with the social information and then try to see the best way to organize this thing. Will there even be a way to organize? I guess that’s our first question. Will it even be feasible to do such a thing?”
Schieffer thinks it may be feasible in some parts of the watershed but not in others. But that’s acceptable, according to Hu, because only a few people need to commit to make a difference.
“Just imagine if you had five major point sources commit,” he said. “That’s actually quite significant along one watershed like the Kentucky River.”
The agriculture industry has split, with large-scale producers on one end of the spectrum and small-scale growers for niche markets on the other. The division has left medium-sized producers surrounded by markets to which they have no access.
And yet, that middle group is the most productive, efficient, and effective group, according to Keiko Tanaka, associate professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development.
“They’re a very intimate part of the rural economy and social life,” she said. “Mid-sized farmers tend to be very active in their communities, creating jobs, and educating young people through their involvement with organizations like 4-H and FFA.”
Keiko Tanaka is contributing to a study in which researchers from nearly every U.S. state are examining potential markets for medium-sized farm operations.
Tanaka is one of the contributors to a multi-state research team focused on revitalizing what has come to be called Agriculture of the Middle. The importance of this initiative, the need to keep these farmers solvent and viable, is reflected in the fact that nearly every state in the union is represented in the study. But opening up new opportunities in a system that has taken a hard turn away from the family farm model is a challenge.
“The nation’s livestock sector in particular is quite concentrated. A few corporations control somewhere between 60 to 85 percent of the market,” she said. “So even though medium-sized farmers might have a large number of hogs, for instance, they can’t compete with those corporations if they don’t have a contract. And they have more volume than they can sell at the farmers market.”
One of the solutions, Tanaka said, might be to create institutional market opportunities, such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. The College’s Bob Perry, project manager for sustainable agriculture and food systems, is currently experimenting with a food value chain that involves buying whole beef and pork carcasses directly from producers, having them custom processed, and transported for use by UK Dining Services.
UK Dining Services could potentially use 40 beeves per month, according to Perry, who is part of a national research team looking at Ag of the Middle value chain models. Including processing and transportation, this program could have a potential $1 million direct economic impact.
Tanaka also studies food security issues, which could impact the success of mid-sized agricultural operations.
The volume of food produced by Ag of the Middle farmers can be an advantage in keeping food prices low enough for low-income families or organizations that support those low-income households.
“In my mind, I think medium-sized farmers are the ones who have a really good chance of addressing the food security issues,” Tanaka said. “But creating marketing opportunities that would make those farms profitable, while addressing the food security issue is a challenge.”
Tanaka and her graduate students are also conducting surveys of community supported agriculture models and Kentucky Proud. By surveying farmers involved in the Kentucky Proud program, she hopes to get a handle on whether they see the brand as helpful in creating marketing opportunities and finding interested buyers, as well as the challenges they see from the program.
In recent years, many pesky weeds have become more resistant to glyphosate, popularly known as Roundup. That’s not good news for many farmers, gardeners, and landscapers who rely on the herbicide to control weeds in their fields and beds. The combination of Roundup and Roundup-ready crops like soybeans, which are genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup, is a powerful weed control tool for farmers, but it has also fueled an increased use of Roundup. Now after years of exposure many weeds are beginning to develop resistance on their own.
Left to right: Roberta Magnani, Robert Houtz, and Lynnette Dirk review results of their efforts to find a solution to controlling Roundup-resistant weeds.
The resistance has become so strong, some liken it to antibiotic drug resistance leading to supergerms; glyphosate resistance is leading to “superweeds.” The New York Times recently reported up to six glyphosate-resistant weeds in 22 states.
The problem is threatening the environment-friendly farming method of no-till. Many farmers are resorting to walking their fields with hoes and manually killing each invader, a far from modern method.
With a little help from the lab rat of the plant world, Arabidopsis, UK Department of Horticulture researchers have found what they believe could be a viable alternative to glyphosate—inhibitors of the essential plant enzyme peptide deformylase.
“Glyphosate resistance is a very real threat to production agriculture,” said Robert L. Houtz, professor and chair of the Department of Horticulture. “We needed to find something that was able to do the same job—fight the weeds without damaging the crop. Our discovery represents a potential alternative to Roundup and Roundup-ready crops, using a completely different chemical, and the technology is applicable across all crop species.”
Houtz, along with Lynnette Dirk, plant physiology research specialist, and Mark Williams, assistant professor of horticulture, evaluated several crop and weed species for sensitivity to actinonin, a natural inhibitor of peptide deformylase, and found that all species were killed by actinonin. However, Houtz and colleagues also showed that they could genetically engineer resistance to actinonin into crop species like Roundup-ready crop systems. Houtz said, “Although further research is needed, our research clearly suggests that inhibitors of plant peptide deformylase may provide a new alternative to Roundup and Roundup-ready crops.”
Kentucky was a frontrunner in the grape-wine industry before Prohibition and before tobacco. The industry is once again on the upswing in the state, but with challenges.
Vineyards here and in other southeastern states, unlike those in California and New York, are most often established in farmland surrounded by pastures, where Japanese beetles and green June beetles like to lay their eggs. The resulting grubs feed on the grass roots, and when they emerge the following summer, the adult beetles find an appetizing meal next door.
Derrick Hammons, while a UK doctoral student, chose to look at how these two insects behave and the damage they do.
He worked closely with faculty advisor Daniel Potter in the Department of Entomology and was also supported by other College researchers—Melissa Newman in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Randy Collins in the Department of Horticulture, and Kaan Kurtural, formerly a UK horticulturist who is now with California State University.
One of Hammons’s findings was that the Japanese beetle, which is not native to the state, makes it possible for the native green June beetle to feed in large numbers on Kentucky’s grape crop.
Invasive Japanese beetles unwittingly "ring the dinner bell" for native green June beetles to feed on grapes, in the process giving grape producers double the trouble.
Hammons found that the green June beetle can’t tear into the fruit itself, because its mouthparts look like spoons and move in tandem—as Potter terms it, “like windshield wipers.” But the Japanese beetle, coming at the grape from both sides with its pointed mouthparts, can grab the fruit and pierce it, opening up the grape so the green June beetle can feed on it. The Japanese beetle not only prepares the meal for the green June beetle, it also “rings the dinner bell” by contaminating the damaged fruits with yeasts carried in its gut that help it to digest its food. Those yeasts ferment, releasing odors that signal the green June beetles to come and get it.
“It’s the first such example of how an invasive species (Japanese beetle) could aggravate injury by a native agricultural pest (the green June beetle),” Potter said.
The discovery was unanticipated—Potter called it “serendipitous”—but is such an advance to basic science that it’s been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
The research also showed that:
Kentucky has its beetles, but it also has a long growing season and a varied climate, so a variety of grapes can be grown here. This research, some of the first in the Southeast on insects and grape production, will help growers take those assets to the bank.
Nutrition is important for cognitive development in any individual, and when it gets out of balance, people can experience a wide range of effects on mood, ability to learn, and physical function. Children with autism are no exception.
“Children with autism may display behavior resembling symptoms of iron deficiency including apathy, short attention span, irritability, and a reduced ability to learn,” said Hazel Forsythe, associate professor and director of the dietetic internship in Nutrition and Food Science. “When you consider the nutritional status of a child with autism, you have to understand that parental viewpoint and expectations related to nutrition help children learn important values about eating well and staying healthy.”
Hazel Forsythe (center) discusses the benefits of a healthy diet with her students Monica Fowler (left) and Whitney Reeder.
Forsythe recently published research surrounding some nutrients of interest for autistic children, nutrition-related interventions, sources of information parents use, and intestinal problems that influence nutritional adequacy in autism. The research also touches on the effects some autism medications have on feeding and feeling satisfied.
“Children with autism take a variety of psychoactive medications to manage their symptoms and support more normalized development,” Forsythe said. “Many of those medications can influence appetite, metabolism of nutrients and a child’s nutritional status.”
Forsythe said many parents rely on online sources of nutritional information related to autism.
“Dietitians are concerned with the amount of information from online and from disreputable sources,” she said. “Dietitians should collect a reference list of the most valid and reliable websites to help parents weed through all the information out there.”
Since many children with autism are at potential risk for nutritional deficiency due to restrictive diet therapies, abnormal feeding practices, restricted and repetitive nutritional intake habits, parental beliefs about nutrition and medication usage, Forsythe believes parents need to work closely with a dietitian to come up with the best nutrition plan for their children.
“New challenges in health care face dietitians daily,” Forsythe said. “If we believe the prevalence rate (of autism) of 1 in 91 children, this will generate a major public health initiative in the next few years, and dietitians need to position themselves to deal with parents who are overwhelmed by the barrage of ‘prescriptions’ to treat autistic symptoms in children.”