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InterConnections: Get to Know Member Beverly J. Agtuca

InterConnections: Get to Know Member Beverly J. Agtuca

From: International society for molecular plant-microbe interaction. Link


“The February 2020 Editor’s pick for MPMI is “In-Situ Metabolomic Analysis of Setaria viridis Roots Colonized by Beneficial Endophytic Bacteria” with first author Beverly Agtuca, a graduate student in the lab of Gary Stacey at the University of Missouri. To read more about Beverly you can find her bio here​. Beverly also shared a great story about how collaborations can not only lead to great research, but can also lead to lasting friendships…”

Chun Jong-Yoon, our former Ph.D. student, whose company created a COVID-19 test using AI technology.

Chun Jong-Yoon, our former Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Seegene, a South Korean biotech company. Seegene were already working on Coronavirus before the 1st confirmed case in South Korea. They started to develop the test without ever having a physical sample of the virus. And they were able to come up with a test in less than two weeks. With the help of drive-through testing facilities to speed up the process, South Korea has already tested >220,000 people, identified nearly 8000 possitive cases.  

Th CNN video about Seegene: Link

Congratulations Dr. Gary Stacey, you’re a Highly Cited Researcher for 2019

Congratulations Dr. Gary Stacey, you’re a Highly Cited Researcher for 2019

Each year, the Web of Science Group identifies the world’s most influential researchers. The select few who have been most frequently cited by their peers over the last decade. In 2019, fewer than 6,300, or 0.1%, of the world’s researchers, across 21 research fields, have earned this exclusive distinction. 

Dr. Stacey is among this elite group recognized for his exceptional research influence, demonstrated by the production of multiple highly-cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year in Web of Science

List of highly cited researchers for 2019 

#I Am Science Fernanda Amaral

# I am Science Fernanda Amaral

IAMSCIENCE Fernanda Amaral
By Mariah Cox | Bond LSC

Growing up on farm in Brazil, Fernanda Amaral often wondered why her father had to treat the soil with nitrogen fertilizer between growing cycles. She questioned why the soil wasn’t enough to consistently provide crops the nutrients they needed to grow and flourish.

Amaral remembers her father explaining soybeans take a lot out of the soil, leaving nothing behind for the next batch of crops. So, he needed to artificially treat the soil with chemical fertilizers to continue the harvest cycle, maintain his business and support his family.

“I used to go and help him harvest and I was always amazed by the process. I have two siblings, and for us it was very fun to watch,” Amaral said.

As she progressed through her undergraduate degree at the Federal University of Pelotas and into her Ph.D. program at the Federal University of Santa Catalina, Amaral realized the enormous cost and environmental disadvantages of nitrogen fertilizers.

“I wanted to understand the process of fertilizing soil and became interested in how we can improve the quality of it without spending so much money to produce it,” Amaral said. “I was always wondering why the soil wasn’t already naturally good enough.”

Her neighbors, who owned a farm the same size as her family, had to spend half of what they were making just to purchase nitrogen fertilizers. She remembers thinking “there has to be a better way.”

Arabidopsis sprouts
Fernanda Amaral holds up a petri dish of individual Arabidopsis sprouts. | Photo by Mariah Cox, Bond LSC

As a post-doctoral researcher in the Stacey lab, Amaral works with plant microbe interactions and focuses on the genes that are triggered by beneficial bacteria in plants. Some plants, such as soybeans, form root nodules when associated with bacteria. In turn, the nodules release nitrogen for the plant, which helps them grow healthier, produce stronger roots and yield more seeds.

She’s trying to understand how plants take advantage of the bacteria found in soil, which genes in the plant are involved, what’s in the bacteria that makes the mechanism work and how bacteria recognition happens in soil.

Amaral works with a grass model plant, which does not nodulate in response to the presence of a bacteria, making it more difficult to study the mechanism. But understanding the interaction at this basic level helps researchers compare what they know about the interaction to crops in the field.

This research could one day mean creating cheaper, more environmentally friendly bacteria-based fertilizers on an industrial level.

Unlike nitrogen fertilizers, non-pathogenic bacteria-based fertilizers are natural and don’t have the potential of water contamination.

Before her post-doc, Amaral spent one year in the Stacey lab as a visiting scholar as part of the Science Without Borders program, funded by the Brazilian government.

“I was drawn back to the lab because people were very nice,” Amaral said. “It’s a big lab compared with my former lab in Brazil. We have a very international lab and there are a lot of people from different cultures, so I’m always learning about other countries.”

Arabidopsis sprouts
Arabidopsis sprouts in a petri dish. | Photo by Mariah Cox, Bond LSC

Now, when she talks with her dad, Amaral finds he understands the results of scientific processes in the field, such as taller plants and green leaves after fertilizing the soil, which is a fun entry point for her to talk about the scientific mechanisms behind those results.

“When I talk to my dad about the technology, he has a general idea of what it is. He has so much knowledge of the fieldwork that sometimes even though he doesn’t know what the technology involves, he recognizes the outcomes of using those technologies in the field,” Amaral said.

Looking to the future, Amaral plans on wrapping up her last research project within the next 10 months. She hopes to work at a company in the agriculture industry that has a good mission and aims to help farmers improve production and reduce costs.

“Everything that starts in the seed ends up on our table. I want to do whatever I can to make a small difference,” Amaral said.

Original link: 

Beyond the visible: building a microscope that takes a quantum leap

Researchers from MU, the University of Maryland and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are building a microscope that doesn’t yet exist.

Quantum Dots with emission maxima in a 10-nm step are being produced at PlasmaChem in a kg scale.jpg

By Mariah Cox | Bond LSC

Tiny neon dots speckle a black backdrop – and no, this isn’t a Hasbro Lite Brite. Rather, these fluorescent dots indicate something about plants that scientists research and help them see the genes, traits and molecules they study amid thousands of possibilities.

To help in seeing that, a new imaging microscope will allow researchers to better pinpoint molecular interactions in plants they have a hard time highlighting to overcome the obstacle plant scientists face with wavelengths of light they can’t necessarily see.

“When you think about imaging, you think about what you can see with your eyes. But, there are a whole variety of other things you can image that aren’t visible to the human eye,” said Gary Stacey, a Bond Life Sciences Center principal investigator who is working to help develop a new microscope technology to view fluorescent quantum dot markers beyond the range of visible light, into the infrared spectrum.

Stacey, along with collaborators from the University of Maryland and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), was awarded a combined $2.25 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a novel microscope for ‘multiplexed super-resolution fluorescence imaging in plants.’

The call for the development of this new imaging hardware was borne out of the need for a more precise measurement of enzyme function, tracking of metabolic pathways and monitoring the transport of materials and signaling processes within and among cells in plants. Right now, the emission spectrum of plant pigments limits the usefulness of and the number of fluorescent colors that can be detected in a single experiment.

Stacey and his collaborators were one of six groups to be chosen for a total $13.5 million investment from the DOE for new bioimaging approaches. For bioenergy, using quantum dots in combination with other novel technologies could enhance imaging techniques to allow scientists new ways to re-engineer plants and microbes for bioenergy conservation and production.

Quantum dots are small particles that are only a few nanometers in size, one nanometer equals one billionth of a meter, and are used as fluorescent biological labels in cells. These labels can be tagged to particular molecules, cell parts or genes of interest to a researcher.

“Think about [fluorescence] as a black light. If you have a room that’s completely dark with fluorescent paint on the wall and you turn on a black light, then you will be able to see where the paint is on the wall,” Stacey said. “It’s the same concept for quantum dots. One application is localizing where a virus is or label it and watch it move into a cell to try to understand the mechanism by which it moves.”

However, the mechanics behind quantum dots don’t make it simple. When exciting a single molecule, it will fluoresce and emit light but will do so in a diffuse pattern. This makes it difficult to see the molecule itself.

Additionally, plants absorb 490-700nm of light — essentially covers the entire visible range of light — allowing them to photosynthesize. As a result of absorbing these wavelengths of light, they also auto fluoresce, which is natural emission of light by structures inside plants cells such as chloroplasts.

The problem, then, is that viruses labeled with fluorescent probes in leaves are difficult to see because of the natural fluorescent glow coming from the plant.

For Stacey and his collaborators, the idea is to go beyond the visible light spectrum and use infrared light, which is above the visible light spectrum. Infrared light is most commonly known for its use in heat lamps.

“With infrared light, there would be no autofluorescence and so when you shine infrared light on a leaf, it would appear black,” Stacey said.” If you shine an infrared light on a fluorescent molecule, it would emit light and show up against a black background, making it very easy to see.”

The problem, though, is being able to distinguish one fluorescent molecule from another when they are close together. Because the researchers will be using infrared light, which has a longer wavelength, the imaging resolution decreases.

To get around that obstacle, the researchers will be using super-resolution microscopy to compensate for the resolution loss. The use of this technology will allow them to pinpoint the center of the fluorescence.

“It should be a big breakthrough. We would be able to look at single molecules interacting against a black background without any interference from autofluorescence,” Stacey said.

Stacey’s collaborators each contribute to the project in their unique way.

Zeev Rosenzweig from the University of Maryland, who is an expert in quantum dots, will be making the dots and labeling them with probes that absorb infrared light. Galya Orr from the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), PNNL, in Richmond, Washington, has expertise in fluorescent microscopy and she, and her colleagues, will build the microscope.

An attractive part of submitting a proposal for the grant is the microscope’s prospect of being used as part of the EMSL user facility, which will ultimately allow researchers from all over the world to use the microscope when fully developed.

The researchers are excited to begin work on this project because they’re building a microscope that doesn’t yet exist. The microscope will expand the capabilities of researchers all over the world.

Stacey is appreciative that he gets to work with researchers from multiple disciplines. Namely, because he learns more about science from the expertise of others.

“That’s what makes it exciting because you’re constantly learning. The great thing about science is that you’re learning every day. It’s nice to get into these new areas especially where you don’t feel comfortable and learn new stuff,” Stacey said.

This work is funded by the Department of Energy for innovating new bioimaging approaches for bioenergy. The grant is split among the collaborators at the University of Maryland, University of Missouri and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Specifically, $1.5 mil. is to be used by researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri and $750,000 by researchers at EMSL.

Original link:

Prof. Gary Stacey returned from attending the 21st International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation

Prof. Gary Stacey returned from attending the 21st International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation

From October 10th to 15th, 2019, the 21st International Conference on Nitrogen Fixation (ICNF 2019) was held on the campus of Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China. This conference has been an interantion forum for scientific discussion on nitrogen fixation for over 40 years.

Prof. Gary Stacey presented the opening, keynote lecture entitled ” Four decades of symbiotic nitrogen fixation research: What have we learned?”

It’s also nice to meet previous Stacey-lab members in the conference. (from left to right) Yangrong Cao and Yan Liang, now, are successful professors in China; Juan Sanjuán is continuing to do great job in Granada, Spain; Marc Libault, recently, moved to University of Nebraska; and Zhe Yan also a professor in China, working with small RNAs.     


Prof. Gary Stacey and Prof. Bing Stacey at the 7th MU-GNU Joint Symposium on Agrobiotechnology

Prof. Gary Stacey and Prof. Bing Stacey at the 7th MU-GNU Joint Symposium on Agrobiotechnology

On 7th and 8th October 2019, Gyeongsang National University (GNU) and University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) had the wonderful 7th MU-GNU joint Symposium on Agrobiotechnology, hosted by Institute of Plant Biotechnology, GNU. At the Symposium, 16 professors from both MU and GNU announced critical research results on agriculture biotechnology.

Flying from USA, University of Missouri has Dr. Gary Stacey (Chairman), Dr. Minviluz G. Stacey (Dr. Bing Stacey), Dr. Walter Gassman, Dr. Kevin B. Rice, Dr. Abraham J. Koo, Dr. Norma A. Castro-Duerrero and Dr. David G. Mendoza-Cozatl. The success of the symposium had showed great achievement of the cooperation between two universities since 2006.  

Original news (in Korean-reporter Seo-Jeong Kim): Link