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CPSC Ghosts of the Past Photo Series

A few months ago, we found a dusty box tucked away on a shelf, containing a carousel of slides. We scanned in the slides and found faces and scenes from long ago! These faces were identified by long-time staff members - some have moved on, but some we know very well and are even teaching to this day. We featured this amazing bit of history as a Halloween special on social media. Check out this fun discovery on our Instagram and Facebook pages!

CPSC in the News
30 years of experiments simulate future

Over the past 30 years, a network of 14 long-term research facilities spanning five continents has simulated future levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) to forecast the impact on crops. Importantly, these ‘Free-Air Concentration Enrichment’ (FACE) experiments are conducted outside in real-world field conditions to capture the complex environmental factors that impact crop growth and yield.

A review published in Global Change Biology synthesizes 30 years of FACE data to grasp how global crop production may be impacted by rising CO2 levels and other factors. The study portends a less optimistic future than the authors’ previous review published 15 years ago in New Phytologist. “There are likely genetic solutions, should society decide to act on these—however, time is short,” said co-author Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology.

“It’s quite shocking to go back and look at just how much CO2 concentrations have increased over the lifetime of these experiments,” said co-author Lisa Ainsworth, a research plant physiologist with the USDA-ARS. “We are reaching the concentrations of some of the first CO2 treatments 30 years back. The idea that we can check the results of some of the first FACE experiments in the current atmosphere is disconcerting.” Read more here.

Illinois scientists rev up plant breeding for organic corn

Martin Bohn, associate professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, will partner with scientists from other universities on a new $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). The four-year grant will support University of Illinois scientists and collaborators as they develop improved seed corn tailored to the needs of the rapidly growing organic industry. Read more here.

Illinois study tracks evolution of SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations

Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, professor of bioinformatics in CPSC is the senior author on a new study published in Evolutionary Bioinformatics. University of Illinois researchers and students show the virus is honing the tactics that may make it more successful and more stable. The team found some regions still actively spinning off new mutations, indicating continuing adaptation to the host environment. But the mutation rate in other regions showed signs of slowing, coalescing around single versions of key proteins. Read more here.

Illinois team sequences Miscanthus genome

An international research team has sequenced the full genome of an ornamental variety of miscanthus, a wild perennial grass emerging as a prime candidate for sustainable bioenergy crops. The genome project — led by scientists at the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Research Center — provides a road map for researchers exploring new avenues to maximize the plant’s productivity and decipher the genetic basis for its desirable traits.

CABBI researchers like Erik Sacks, Associate Professor in CPSC, are working on new hybrids, crossing M. sinensis and M. sacchariflorus to create multiple giganteus varieties that would be more adaptable to different regions and produce seeds. Other instrumental researchers included Professors Stephen Moose and Matthew Hudson, CPSC scientists who were involved in the genome project when it was under the auspices of the Energy Biosciences Institute, a BP-funded initiative at Illinois, UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab. Professor Stephen Long, another CPSC scientist, had been among the first to propose miscanthus as the basis for a new biofuel economy. Read more here.

Corn and other crops are not adapted to benefit from elevated CO2

Through photosynthesis, plants are able to turn CO2 into yield. Logic tells us that the increasing levels of CO2 should boost crop production, but a new review from the University of Illinois shows that some crops, including corn, are adapted to a pre-industrial environment and cannot distribute their resources effectively to take advantage of extra CO2. When crops are grown in elevated CO2 that mimic future atmospheric conditions, research shows that C3 crops can become more productive while some experiments suggest that C4 crops would be no more productive in a higher CO2 world. Read more here.

Updates on Energy Farm Weighing Room

Despite COVID, CPSC is putting the finishing touches on the weighing room expansion project this fall. There are now three freight container drying ovens, and with harvest season fully adding demands for dryer space, this is a very timely completion of the project. There are minor contractor activities finishing up this week, then the last activities will be the hemp/corn/Miscanthus fiber walls to finish out the project. Biomass heat from our boiler has been providing the necessary heat to run the ovens for the last week, along with heating the greenhouse as colder weather is upon us. Read more here.

Metropolitan farming offers surprise opportunities for U of I junior

Where and how we grow up influence what we decide to do for a living. Maggie Furr grew up in the rural community of Shelbyville, Illinois. Her parents farm corn and soybeans. Furr, a junior in Crop Sciences expanded on her interests and upbringing by exploring another side of agriculture: metropolitan farming. With University of Illinois Extension and a Champaign-Urbana family business, Furr is designing community gardens for tenants of Royse + Brinkmeyer Apartments. She’s helping create a sense of community while also providing city residents a unique and useful amenity. Plus, the goal is to have enough produce left over to donate it to local food distribution streams. Read more here.

Awards & Accomplishments
CPSC Awarded Four Awards at ACES & Paul A. Funk Awards Ceremony

Runge Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award: Dr. Matt Hudson

Faculty Excellence in Extension Award: Dr. Laura Christianson

Graduate Student Research Award, PhD: Dr. Laura Chatham, Advisor: Dr. Jack Juvik

Graduate Student Research Award, MS: Olivia Obenland, Advisor: Dr. Dean Riechers

See all the awardees here.

Dr. Laura Christianson Wins USDA Grant

The USDA has awarded a grant to Laura Christianson, CPSC assistant professor and lead on a project titled "Innovating through barriers for bioreactors and saturated buffers." The University of Illinois will design and evaluate bioreactors and saturated buffers that address variable flow, increase the volume of water treated, look at how site factors may impact performance, and test innovative nitrogen monitoring methods that could lead to market-based water quality solutions.

The $2 million USDA 2020 National Competion is to support the development of innovative systems, tools, and technologies for production and conservation on agricultural lands. Funds are provided through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which awards grants to organizations, universities, and others that are developing innovations to support farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. Read more here.

CPSC Halloween Trivia Night and Costume Contest

CPSC held a virtual trivia night and costume contest in a socially-distanced celebration of Halloween. Faculty, staff, and students attended in costumes and answered a range of trivia questions, many about crop sciences. Anthony Blanton, IT technical associate, won the costume contest with his charming pirate costume, eschewing the traditional parrot for an owl.

Incorporating Soils into General Chemistry at Parkland

CPSC faculty have been working to incorporate soils education into General Chemistry courses at Parkland. Dr. Andrew Margenot recently taught several soil chemistry lab sections in Dr. Britt Carlson’s chemistry class. It was a huge success for everyone. Dr. Margenot received great student feedback. A few students said that they now want to work in Dr. Margenot’s lab.

2020 UIUC Plant Sciences Symposia

The 2020 UIUC Plant Science Symposia was held virtually on Friday, October 9th. This year's theme was: Preparing Agriculture for the Future: There is No Crystal Ball. The symposium, sponsored by Corteva Agriscience, explored efforts to address future issues and changes arising in agriculture and showcased researchers making unique contributions to the future of agriculture.

Read more here and here.

Discover Crop Sciences - Correction

In our October issue, we added the link to the wrong video. You can hear about the goals and experiences of our students, learn how Dr. Andrew Margenot got his start in crop sciences, and how Dr. Laura Christianson sees the future of agronomy here.


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