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CPSC in the News

Three people stand outside in a field 
Rising temperatures also alter photosynthesis in a changing climate

Agricultural scientists who study climate change often focus on how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will affect crop yields. But rising temperatures are likely to complicate the picture, researchers report in a new review of the topic.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, the review explores how higher temperatures influence plant growth and viability despite the greater availability of atmospheric CO2, a key component of photosynthesis. Excessive heat can reduce the efficiency of enzymes that drive photosynthesis and can hinder plants’ ability to regulate CO2 uptake and water loss, the researchers write. Structural features can make plants more – or less – susceptible to heat stress. Ecosystem attributes – such as the size and density of plants, the arrangement of leaves on plants or local atmospheric conditions – also influence how heat will affect crop yields.

The review describes the latest scientific efforts to address these challenges. “Historically, there’s been a lot of focus on rising CO2 and the impact that it has on plants,” said co-author Carl Bernacchi, a professor of plant biology and of crop sciences and an affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “And it is an important factor, because we are changing that carbon dioxide concentration enormously. But it’s a small part of the bigger story. Once you throw changing temperatures into the mix, it completely messes up our understanding of how plants are going to respond.” Read more here.

A man wearing glasses is pointing at a computer screen and explainging something to a woman. 
University of Illinois precision agriculture program to debut summer 2021

More than ever, future leaders in agriculture need a strong foundation in data science, programming, and digital applications. CPSC Professor Hamze Dokoohaki and Isabella Condotta, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, are leading a new program to address this. Starting this July, high school students age 16 and up, as well as first-year students at U of I, can enroll in a free two-week summer course to learn the fundamentals of precision agriculture. Although the course will be held online this year due to COVID-19, it will include hands-on learning and will give students opportunities to work with real data to solve real problems. Read more here.

A flowering field under a blue sky 
Illinois regenerative agriculture meeting set for April 9

A partnership between the U of I Department of Crop Sciences; College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Extension, and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), called IRAI, is inviting interested farmers, researchers, nonprofit groups, and others with a stake in resilient agriculture and food production to join its second public meeting on April 9.

Launched in October at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, IRAI is a home for regenerative agriculture research, education, and outreach. With support from Fresh Taste, it will gather stakeholders on campus and beyond to create agriculture and food systems resilient to climate change, improve soil and water quality, support healthy communities, and enhance food security. Read more here.

Corn roots in sand 
Going back in time restores decades of quiet corn drama

CPSC Professor Martin Bohn along with co-authors Alonso Favela and Angel Kent, found modern corn varieties recruit fewer “good” microbes – the ones that fix nitrogen in the soil and make it available for crops to take up – than earlier varieties. Instead, throughout the last several decades of crop improvement, corn has been increasingly recruiting “bad” microbes. These are the ones that help synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and other sources of nitrogen escape the soil, either as potent greenhouse gases or in water-soluble forms that eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico and contribute to oxygen-starved “dead zones.” Read more here.

New research looks to combat SCN through neuroscience

During his three-decade career, Dr. Bert Endo created 40,000 physical SCN micrographs, a treasure trove of data for researchers. Unfortunately, after his retirement in 1995, the building that housed his lab was damaged by a hurricane and scheduled for demolition. CPSC Professor Nate Schroeder heard about the situation and couldn’t bear to let the massive amount of data go to waste.
“I flew out there, rented a U-Haul, and spent a day going into this abandoned building and hauling out thousands of micrographs,” said Schroeder, associate professor of crop sciences. “I had to wear a mask; animals had gotten into the space. It was kind of like going into an abandoned tomb digging out his valuable material.”
It may have been an unorthodox way to collect data, but Schroeder, who has dedicated his career to using electron microscopy to study the anatomy of nematodes, knew the importance of the baseline, historical images. Read more here.


Awards and Accomplishments

ACES Paul A. Funk Recognition Awards

The Team Award for Excellence: Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab)

  • Dr. Brian Diers; Crop Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Rita Mumm; Crop Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Glen Hartman; Crop Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Juan Arbelaez; Crop Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Nico Martin; Crop Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Andrew Margenot; Crop Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Guillermo Marcillo; Crop Sciences Post-Doctoral Researcher
  • Ms. Nicole Lee; Crop Sciences Graduate Student
  • Ms. Liana Acevedo-Siaca; Crop Sciences Graduate Student
  • Ms. Madeline Pool; Crop Sciences Undergraduate Student

Staff Award for Excellence: Ms. Linda Kemplin

Service Recognition Award: Dr. David Walker, USDA-ARS

Graduate Student Research Award: Mr. Jacob Montgomery


Extra! Extra!

Stills from interviews 
CPSC Professors Star in NOVA Series

Several CPSC professors, including Dr. Stephen Long, Don Ort, and Lisa Ainsworth, were featured in Nova’s Beyond the Elements series for the episode "Life", about how scientists use evolution in chemistry. You can watch here.


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