Project Descriptions

Adaptive management for climate adaptation:
burning, grazing and rest in the prairie

Climate models project wetter springs, drier summers with more extreme rain events, and longer growing seasons for the tallgrass prairie regions of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota; changes we are already observing in the region. These climate changes are expected to exacerbate the already existing challenges of habitat fragmentation and invasive species. Given these challenges, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are working to understand how ecosystem processes such as fire and herbivory influence plant community diversity. This team has been collecting data on plant communities and disturbance across over 25,000 acres of remnant prairie in the region since 2008. With 15 years of data, the team is beginning to understand how fire and herbivory interact with plant diversity at a coarse scale, but many lingering questions remain that could be addressed with this dataset. For example: Does the season of fire or intensity of herbivory alter the effect on plant communities? Does the effect of ecosystem processes depend on plant community type, recent weather patterns, or topographic position on the landscape? How does the history of ecological processes differentially effect plants or butterflies? Researcher assistants working on this project will have the opportunity to identify questions of interest to them; collaborate with a team of agency scientists, land managers, and field interns; and conduct both fieldwork and data analyses. The research assistant will develop skills in all aspects of conducting ecological research including conducting field surveys (e.g., plants, birds, insects), running a field season, data management, data analysis, communicating with team members, and communicating (written and orally) results to conservation agencies.   

Network Mentor:Marissa Ahlering – The Nature Conservancy

Measuring plants from space:
ground truthing remote sensing data for biomass productivity and biodiversity

Plant productivity is an important component of ecosystem function and can say a lot about the health and biodiversity of an ecosystem. Tracking the condition and biodiversity of our prairie ecosystems at a broad scale as they respond to many anthropogenic changes (e.g., habitat loss, invasive species, climate change, etc.) has proven challenging. In recent years, advances in remote sensing technology provide a possible path forward. Online platforms now exist that will translate remote sensing imagery into estimates of productivity and biomass, but to effectively use these data for evaluating changes in condition, ground truthing is necessary. To begin this process, we have some data collected on biodiversity and biomass across many Nature Conservancy preserves in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In this project, research assistants will have the opportunity to identify a region of interest, collect more biomass and biodiversity data in the field, and work with multiple types of data to develop models that would establish a reliable relationship between the satellite and field data. This project has the potential to revolutionize our ability to monitor the health of our prairie ecosystems and help conservation agencies more effective address the biodiversity crisis. Through this project the research assistant will gain skills in leading teams, coordinating fieldwork, conducting biodiversity and biomass surveys in the field, data management, working with multiple types of data in a model, and communicating (written and orally) results with conservation agencies.

Network Mentor: Marissa Ahlering – The Nature Conservancy

Illuminating Ecology: Field science and big data

The National Science Foundation's National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a continental-scale observation facility operated by Battelle and designed to collect long-term open access ecological data to better understand how U.S. ecosystems are changing.  NEON collects data about plants, animals, soil, nutrients, freshwater, and the atmosphere using sensor measurements and field observations. There are three NEON sites in North Dakota supported by an office in Jamestown.  NEON field-based measurements provide detailed information that characterizes local, site-level change. Airborne data combined with site-level data capture contiguous site-level information and can be combined with existing satellite data to support regional to continental characterization of ecological processes. An intern with the RaMP project could participate in data collection at our field sites and learn to utilize NEON data to explore questions in a wide variety of ecological areas. 

Field and lab work: The type of fieldwork will depend on your experience and interest in terrestrial (i.e. fauna and flora) or aquatic ecology. Fieldwork will include navigating with a map, compass, and GPS, and learning a wide variety of protocols for sampling and data collection.  Lab experiences can include identifying and processing plant, soil and invertebrate samples, measuring pH and conducting titrations.

Instrumentation: Interns may also have the opportunity to help maintain field site instrumentation, which includes calibrating sensors, troubleshooting problems, site maintenance, and assisting with corrective maintenance of sensors. 

Skill development: Increase your understanding of ecological processes and change at large spatial and temporal scales with NEON. In addition to hands on experience in a wide variety of ecological data collection, we offer educational resources to gain the data skills (R coding skills) needed to work with NEON data. You would have the opportunity to develop a project using NEON data and potentially make connections to data collected at other sites around the country to answer important ecological questions.

Network Mentor:Andrea Anteau, NEON

The evolutionary potential of natural populations

The RaMP member will lead a project examining how behavior and morphology are genetically linked. By collecting data on the morphology of crickets—body size and shape—and combining this with behavioral data, the RaMP member will determine the evolutionary potential of natural populations to respond to changing environments.

Using behavioral data collected in crickets and directly collecting morphological data, the RaMP member will calculate the genetic correlations tying (or not!) behaviors to morphology. This will allow us to determine the ability of populations to respond to selection on both behaviors and morphology. As populations experience warmer temperatures and increasingly disturbed habitats, the ability of populations to evolutionarily respond will become increasingly important to the persistence and survival of many species.

As part of this project, we will train the RaMP member in data collection, project and data management, statistical analyses, and data science. We will also train the RaMP member in the curation of large datasets, how to properly plan statistical analyses given research questions and data structure, how to code analytical pipelines (using the R statistical language), and learn to properly interpret outcomes of statistical analyses. Through presentations of results in local and professional meetings, the member will also gain experience in presenting scientific results verbally, textually, and graphically.

Network Mentor: Ned Dochtermann, North Dakota State University

Insults for free: The role of metamorphosis in reversing aging in bees

Insects that go through metamorphosis are an extreme example of disposable somatic tissue, because juvenile tissues are destroyed during metamorphosis, while the adult body is built from imaginal, stem cell-like tissues. Metamorphosis may allow insects to take “insults for free” during the larval stage—if tissue accumulates stress-related damage, the individual only has to make it to metamorphosis, then the tissue is disposed of and no longer influences fitness. We hypothesize that metamorphosis allows insects to compartmentalize aging, only investing in regenerative maintenance of tissues that are not disposed of during metamorphosis, while allowing rapid aging of disposable somatic tissues.  In addition, we will test to what extent stress affects the rate of aging in these tissues. We will test this hypothesis by comparing cellular aging in brain (not disposable), hemolymph (constantly regenerated), reproductive organs (not soma, not disposable), epidermis and larval muscle (disposable), and flight muscle (regenerated anew).  Our preliminary data show that telomeres in prepupae are shorter than those of adults. However, that data compares whole-body prepupae to adult flight muscle, a tissue that could be governed by different aging dynamics than other adult tissues.

We will test the ability of metamorphosis to reset the aging effects of stress by treating prepupal M. rotundata with chemicals to increase and decrease oxidative stress. We will sample tissues in prepupae 24 hours after treatment and when the bees emerge as adults. We will sample brain, hemolymph, ovary/teste, and epidermis. In the adults, we will also sample flight muscle. For all of these tissues, we will measure telomere length, DNA damage, lipid peroxidation, glutathione activity, and reactive oxygen species. Adult bees will also be tested for performance upon emergence and rate of senescence by measuring fight performance by a drop test, non-feeding lifespan, and activity during the second week post-emergence.

Experimental tools and skills/methods:  Insect husbandry, Programming incubators, Molecular biology methods including: qPCR and biochemical assays, Organization of experimental samples and data, 3D printing and designing equipment for the experiment, Dissection and microscopy

Potential Network Mentors/Collaborators: Kendra Greenlee, NDSU, collaborating with Julia Bowsher, NDSU, Britt Heidinger, NDSU and Joseph Rinehart, USDA

Why do birds become obese in the fall?

Migratory flight is energetically expensive and requires increased storage of fats and increases in muscle fibers (particularly pectoral muscle) to fuel and power migratory flight.   In preparation for this energetically expensive life-history stage, birds become hyperphagic, increasing food consumption, particularly with foods rich high in fat content. In songbirds, roughly 70-80% of pre-migratory mass gain is due to increased storage of fats. Birds also re-fuel on stopover sites.  Again, this is driven by bouts of intense foraging, particularly on high fat food sources.  The distance that a bird is traveling from or to may also influence the degree of and speed of refueling.This suggests that the distance already traveled may impact the degree of refueling hyperphagic behavior.. 

While hyperphagic behavior in preparation for migration or to re-fuel enroute is well established, the mechanisms that regulate this dramatic shift in behavior are not well studied.  This project will ask if physiological mechanisms that have been associated with feeding behaviors and obesity in mammals are acting to drive seasonal ‘obesity’ in birds to provide fuels for migratory flights.  

A better understanding of the drivers of this behavior (e.g. time of year, location of origin) as well as the mechanistic regulators of these transitions to intense feeding on high-fat food sources may provide insights for potential future conservation or  management tools.  Participants on this project will:

  1. Collect  tissue samples, including brain, liver and pectoral muscle from red-winged blackbirds from the late summer (Sept) period to the end of flocking in the autumn (early Nov.).  
  2. Tissue samples will be analyzed in the lab for expression of genes associated with regulation of energy balance and feeding behaviors. Genes known to be associated with energy balance and obesity in mammals will be examined as candidates in the blackbird (e.g., Neuropeptide Y, Agouti-related peptide, Ghrelin receptor, POMC).  

Skill development: This project will involve field work for tissue collection as well as lab work that may include analysis of plasma metabolites and/or hormones, and work with tissue to extract RNA and qPCR to assess variation in expression of candidate genes.

Network Mentors: Tim Greives,NDSU and Page Klug, USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services

Bats on the Brink

Over the last few decades, declines in biodiversity have threatened ecosystems and ecosystem services across the globe.  The loss of biodiversity has been highly attributed to anthropogenic threats such as climate change, land-use change, and habitat degradation.  In more recent years, studies have documented devastating declines in wildlife populations, resulting from other mechanisms such as infectious disease and newly emerging pathogens. Some of the starkest declines for these populations are associated with invasive fungal pathogens.  For example, chytridiomycosis, a highly infectious, waterborne fungal pathogen, is associated with the decline or extirpation of over 200 amphibian species.  According to Fisher et al. (2012), fungal pathogens are more likely to result in wildlife declines and extirpation than any other pathogen because of their ability to persist within the environment, broad range of hosts, and virulence within the host.  As a result of these characteristics, these types of infections are on the increase.  Since 2006, a newly emerging fungal pathogen, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has resulted in dramatic declines in bat populations due to White Nose Syndrome (WNS).  Although fungal infections can result in devastating effects on populations, they also have the ability to serve as a potential evolutionary driver of resistance or tolerance. To better understand how emerging pathogens affect natural populations, this proposed project would examine the response of bat populations across the upper Midwest US as WNS spreads across the region. 

For this project, we will take a two-tiered approach to identify genome-wide responses to WNS in M. lucifuguFirst, we would utilize next generation RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) to analyze transcriptome-wide changes in infected vs. non-infected tissue in Myotis lucifugus.In order to understand variation in survival, this objective seeks to measure transcriptome-wide gene expression to study host responses to Pd infection.  Comparisons would be made between infected versus non-infected tissue from the same bats and between infected versus non-infected bats. Then, we would conduct a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify allele frequency differences between survivors and non-survivors and reveal potential selection pressure in populations exposed to WNS.  This objective is designed to study the changes in allele frequencies that would suggest natural selection and adaption to WNS.  Furthermore, it is essential to understand how selection pressures relate to the immune response seen in the M. lucifugus.   

Skills Developed: Students would have the opportunity to gain hands-on field experiences with mist nets, bat trapping, bat ID, etc.  Students would also gain valuable laboratory experiences such as DNA extraction, PCR, RNAseq, and Next Generation Sequencing.  Lastly, students would learn various bioinformatic techniques during data analysis.   

Network Mentors: Mandy Guinn, United Tribes Technical College

The Hunt for Insect Pollinators

Insect pollinators perform a key role in maintaining the health of agricultural crops and wild plants.  More than 200,000 plant species rely upon insect-mediated pollination.  Recent data have indicated that managed and wild bee populations and biodiversity may be on the decline.  Although the critical role of bees and butterflies in pollination is widely recognized amongst scientists and non-scientists alike, very few are aware that a wide variety of insects from many orders and families are involved in pollination.  However, the US lacks a coordinated nationwide surveillance network to collect critical data on our ~4000 native bee species as well as other pollinators.  Moreover, no one has ever conducted a pollinator species survey in the Turtle Mountain region of North Dakota.  For that reason, we started a pollinator survey of the Turtle Mountain region of North Dakota in the summer of 2022 and will continue it for at least the next four years. 

Skills learned:  plant and insect identification, insect collection, insect dissection, DNA extraction, PCR, DNA sequencing

Network Mentor: Scott Hanson, Turtle Mountain Community College

Light as a feather:
How is feather structure changing in response to rising temperatures?

Bird feathers are amazing structures important for flight, communication, and thermoregulation. Once or twice a year, birds replace their feathers in a process called molt. In some species, there is evidence that birds produce more feathers in the winter to help reduce heat loss in cold environments. However, feathers are expensive to make, and temperatures have been steadily increasing over the past 50 years. Thus, aspects of feather production including the density of feathers and structure of the feathers may be changing in response to climate change, but this is yet to be investigated. This study will examine how aspects of bird feathers are changing in response to climate change in house sparrows using historical and contemporary museum specimens and measuring and following wild caught House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in Fargo, ND. Specifically, we predict that feathers may be becoming less dense in response to rising temperatures. As feather density and structure are expected to have important effects on fitness, this research will enhance our understanding of how organisms are responding to climate change. This project will provide mentoring and training in the scientific process including hypothesis development, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and scientific writing as well as the opportunity to learn several skills including museum specimen collection, processing, and care, measuring feather characteristics, and capturing and monitoring birds in the field.

Network Mentors: Britt Heidinger and Isaac Rush

The long and the short of it:
How does developmental temperature influence telomeres?

The conditions experienced during development often have long-term consequences and can influence the pace of aging and lifespan. One potential factor that may serve as a mechanism and/or biomarker of these effects are telomeres. Telomeres are repetitive, non-coding sections of DNA at chromosome ends that protect coding sequences from loss a bit like a shoelace cap protects a shoelace. However, telomeres limit cellular lifespan because they get shorter during each round of cell division and in response to stress and once telomeres become critically short cells stop dividing and die. In many organisms, including humans, individuals with longer telomeres live longer. In House Sparrows, telomere length at the end of post-natal is positively related to lifespan and lifetime fitness in females. However, we still do not know much about how the factors that influence variation in early life telomere length. Recent studies in reptiles including lizards and birds, suggest that developmental temperature could influence telomeres, which is likely to have important consequences in the face of rising temperatures. As part of our ongoing studies, we have been measuring variation in telomere length and loss and developmental temperature. This study will use both correlational and experimental approaches to examine the effects of variation in temperature during development on telomeres in House Sparrows. This project will provide mentoring and training in the scientific process including hypothesis development, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and scientific writing as well as the opportunity to learn several skills including DNA extraction and measuring telomeres using qPCR, collecting, and analyzing nest temperature data, and measuring nestlings in the field and collecting blood samples.

Network Mentors: Britt Heidinger, NDSU and Gabbie Names

Some like it hot: do birds with warmer winter boxes nest earlier and produce more offspring?

In response to rising temperatures, many organisms have started breeding earlier in the spring. There is also evidence that individuals that experience milder over winter conditions breed earlier and have higher reproductive success. Yet, how variation in macro and microclimate conditions during the non-breeding season influence the timing of breeding and breeding success are not well understood and this information is becoming increasingly urgent in the face of climate change. This study will examine how variation in the macro (ambient) and nest microclimate temperatures influence the timing of breeding, parental behavior, and breeding success of free-living House Sparrows in Fargo, ND. This project will provide mentoring and training in the scientific process including hypothesis development, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and scientific writing as well as the opportunity to learn several skills including collecting, and analyzing nest temperature data, measuring parental behavior, and measuring nestlings in the field and collecting blood samples.

Network Mentors: Britt Heidinger, NDSU, Tim Greives, NDSU, and Sam Lane

Wildlife (Bird) Damage Management in Agroecosystems

A decline in songbirds from the 1970s until today has been documented with blackbirds (Icteridae) among the groups that have witnessed steep declines. While most of the US breeding populations have declined, blackbirds in the northern Great Plains have remained stable and are capable of forming fall roost aggregations of >1 million birds. In this region, blackbirds are considered an agricultural pest, causing >$3.5 million of damage to sunflower and $1.3 million of damage to corn annually as they feed on crops prior to migrating south. The mixed species flocks mainly include red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), but also common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), yellow-headed blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus), brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater), and European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). In collaboration with NDSU, the USDA-APHIS-WS National Wildlife Research Center focuses on studying nonlethal, socially-acceptable conservation actions to avoid native species from becoming pests while providing alternative habitat for foraging and spreading the birds (thus damage) across the landscape. The following are 3 potential projects that a RaMP mentee could lead.

  1. A reliable way to monitor blackbird distribution and abundance across broad scales during fall migration is needed. Effective monitoring of bird populations during the fall damage season will allow management tools to be tested with bird numbers as the response variable. Using bioacoustic monitors and game cameras, you will  identify the presence/absence or abundance (sound amplitude, dB) of blackbirds in cattail roosts. Skills development: You will gain field experience in bird ID (by sight and sound), bird monitoring at roosts, and relationship of blackbird roosts with agroecosystem habitat. You will design and implement field research evaluating seasonal timing and behavior of blackbird roost aggregations and gain experience analyzing data (R statistical language, GIS, monitoring by soundscape and game cameras) and reporting results through oral presentations and written manuscripts.
  2. Raptors target migrating blackbird flocks. Thus, habitat to encourage their presence may create a landscape blackbirds find risky, making other frightening devices more effective. Surveying for  raptor presence or abundance in relation to blackbird flocks, marginal grasslands, marshes, roads, and crops will inform methods to increase raptors for passive control of avian pests. Skills development: You will gain field experience in bird ID, bird monitoring, and the relationship of raptors to agroecosystem habitat. You will design and implement field research evaluating the impact of agricultural land use on avian communities (i.e., blackbirds and their raptor predators) and gain experience analyzing data (R statistical language, GIS) and reporting results through oral presentations and written manuscripts. 
  3. Blackbird damage is not evenly distributed within sunflower fields. Thus, an understanding of the spatial distribution crop damage is needed to efficiently mitigate the conflict. Taking a multiscale approach (i.e., crop, field,  landscape), we can identify how bird damage varies spatially within a field and focus tools in high damage areas or bird entry points. Skills development: You will gain field experience in bird damage estimation in sunflower and its relationship to agroecosystem habitat at multiple scales. You will design and implement field research evaluating the best methodology for accurate damage estimation (infield estimates and tractor yield monitors); and gain experience analyzing data (R  statistical language, GIS) and reporting results through oral presentations and written manuscripts. 

This is a unique opportunity for individuals interested in the interface of agricultural systems and wildlife management. The position also provides applied experience for a career trajectory in local, state, or federal agencies or a research career focusing on the ever-growing field of human-wildlife conflict.

Network Mentor: Page Klug, USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services

Using Fathead Minnow Telomere Lengths as a Measure
Climate and Landuse Driven Environmental Stress in Prairie-Pothole Wetland Ecosystem

Depressional wetlands and lakes in the Prairie-Pothole Region of North Dakota typically exhibit high spatial and temporal variation in ponded-water depths, duration, and water chemistry.  These wetlands serve as important reservoirs for aquatic biodiversity (e.g., plants, invertebrates, and amphibians) that are uniquely adapted to these spatially and temporally dynamic systems. Additionally, prairie-pothole plant and animal communities provide crucial forage and habitat for breeding and migratory waterfowl populations. Contemporary changes in climatic conditions and surrounding land use have facilitated novel ecohydrological conditions. For example, beginning in 1993, many wetland ponds have increased in size and permanence, which has resulted in the dilution of salt concentrations, which has facilitated the establishment of fish populations in these historically fishless systems. While concentrations have been diluted, salts are entering the systems at increasing rates, which could result in very saline conditions as temperatures warm,wetlands dry, and salts concentrate. This project will use fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) as a study organism to understand how salinity gradients influence environmental driven physiological stress in this species. Fathead minnows have been shown to cause trophic cascades that have direct and indirect negative influences on native invertebrate, amphibian, and plant species. They also occur across a relatively wide salinity gradient. We will measure telomere lengths of  fathead minnows collected in North Dakota lakes and relate them to the environmental characteristics (e.g.,, salinity, depth, turbidity) of the systems they were collected in. These data will be supplemented by additional sampling of fathead minnow pulations in North Dakota. Telomere lengths could provide a proxy of environmental stress that could be used to identify optimal and suboptimal conditions along observed salinity gradients.

Experimental tools and skills development: Field methods for fish sampling and environmental data collection in wetlands  and analysis of telomere lengths of fish. Data extraction from a robust observational dataset and analysis tools for relating fathead minnow telomere lengths to environmental variables.

Network Mentors: Britt Heidinger, NDSU collaborating with Kyle McLean, USGS

Identifying Environmental and Physiological
Indicators and Mechanisms that Control Phenotypic Expression in Larval Barred Tiger Salamanders

Barred Tiger salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium) are a polyphenic species. Aquatic larvae respond to variable environmental conditions by metamorphosing into terrestrial metamorphic adults that will leave their natal waterbodies or larvae will retain their larval morphology and become sexually mature paedomorphic adults that maintain their aquatic adaptations (i.e., gills and finlike tail). The environmental cues and resulting physiological mechanisms that determine paedomorphosis are poorly understood. There are two prevalent, but opposing hypotheses for why some larvae become paedomorphic adults. One hypothesis is because it is out of necessity (e.g., slow growth and energy constraints), and the other is out of convenience (aquatic resources prevalent). Regardless, the proportion of larvae that remain in their aquatic habitats can have profound influences on the aquatic invertebrate and amphibian communities, and tiger salamander recruitment. We propose to have participants use long-term environmental and tiger salamander data from wetland monitoring sites in central North Dakota to develop a field and laboratory-based study that would relate environmental attributes (e.g., ponded water levels, aquatic prey availability) and salamander body condition and physiological characteristics to phenotypic expression.

Experimental tools and skills development: Field methods for amphibian work and analysis of physiological characteristics such as hormone levels (glucocorticoids, thyroid hormones) at critical life-history stages.  Data extraction from a large long-term database and analysis tools for analyzing complex and large datasets with environmental variables.

Network Mentors: Kyle McLean, USGS collaborating with Tim Greives, NDSU

The Mile High Microbes

Airborne microbes have the greatest potential of spread among any organisms in most ecosystems. These microbes have unique characteristics and lifecycles which enable them to seamlessly survive in high altitudes or   high atmospheric environments. These unique characteristics them the ability to withstand varying wind velocities,  air pressures, air current speeds, variable and drastic temperature changes, and wet and dry  conditions

The study of airborne microbes has renewed interest because of public health implications these microbes have as pathogenic organisms. COVID-19, Influenza, and many pandemic and epidemic pathogens affecting our societies today are spread primarily through airborne mechanisms. There is a huge concern that the ideal spread of bioweapons such as Anthrax will be effective if they spread through airborne mechanisms 

Airborne microbes form part of the particulate matter fraction of the air, especially at the coarse (PM10) and fine (PM2.5) particulate matter fractions of the air.  Their significance as part of any air quality assessment cannot be overstated. The current knowledge about microbial communities associated with airborne particulate matter, is limited. This study will fill this gap by describing the microbial communities associated airborne particulate matter using genetic sequencing techniques in combination with atmospheric science data culled from NASA’s TEMPO mission monitoring station at Sitting Bull College. Particulate matter will be sampled over 4 seasons in urban and rural settings. Then eDNA techniques will be used to extract and identify the microbes in the stratified air column of these settings. The project will have two main objectives and approaches: First, we will develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for sampling airborne microbial communities in the atmosphere. The use of UVA technology and drones equipped with filteration and collection systems will be the focus pf this approach.Second, we will utilize eDNA techniques supplemented with next generation RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) to analyze the microbial communities.

Skills Developed: Students will gain hands-on field experiences with airborne particulate matter sampling, and use new technology in field research. Students would also gain valuable laboratory experiences in grnomis by working on eDNA extraction techniques. 

Network Mentors: Mafany Ndiva Mongoh, Sitting Bull College

Genome-Wide Response to Environmental Stresses in Common Bean

Common bean is the most important food legume in the world produced for human consumption.  It is rich in protein, fiber, and many macro- and micronutrients.  The production of this important food source is challenged by a climate change conditions that are unpredictable.  It can face flooding during early season germination, heat stress during the important flower portion of the growing season, and drought during the critical seed filling period of development.  Detailed analyses of gene expression analyses are lacking for genotypes grow under these conditions.  Better understanding of genome-wide expression pattern will provide plant breeders with selection targets to develop varieties better able to produce a crop under stressful conditions.

The goal of this project is to characterize the whole genome pattern of expression under abiotic stress (e.g. flooding and drought conditions).  Controlled greenhouse experiments will simulate these various growth conditions. Additional field validations can follow. An RNA-seq expression study will identify suites of genes associated with various physiological pathways that are differentiate genotypes that can withstand or suffer from the stresses.  The results of the experiments will identify allelic variants of important genes required for common bean to successfully survive the stress and possibly produce a crop under the stress conditions.

Professional development: During this project, you will learn: hypothesis development, project planning, and experimental time management skills.  
Technical skills will include: greenhouse growth management, exposure to field-based research, tissue sampling, RNA extraction, RNA library preparation, and whole genome expression analysis using bioinformatics tools.  
Personal skills will include: interacting with young and experienced researchers, verbal and written communicating scientific results, and public presentation of scientific results.

Network Mentors: Juan Osorno, NDSU and Phil McClean, NDSU

Small RNA, Big effects!

Changing environments means species are moving around more than in the past - both because of humans moving around and the climate changing. When species move around more, they meet new species they haven’t met before. When that happens, they get new diseases. Not just bacteria and viruses, but also bits of DNA that live inside their cells and replicate selfishly.

Small RNA is how organisms defend against these invasions. We will work on how small RNA populations evolve in response to new invaders.

Skills that will be acquired during the RAMP:
Molecular biology: PCR, DNA/RNA extraction
Bioinformatics: basic coding skills
Technology: Operating next gen sequencing technology

Network Mentors: Sarah Signor, NDSU

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