The Associated Press, Penobscot Times and Phys.org reported on research being conducted by Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the University of Maine School of Biology and Ecology. Shrum is researching the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. Her goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future. Boston Herald, WLBZ (Channel 2), Boston.com, Portland Press Herald, Daily Journal, SFGate, Journal Tribune, seattlepi.com and The Telegraph carried the AP report.
University of Maine researchers have designed a handheld device that can quickly detect disease-causing and toxin-producing pathogens, including algal species that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The device — a colorimeter — could be instrumental in monitoring coastal water in real-time, thereby preventing human deaths and beach closures, says lead researcher Janice Duy, a recent graduate of UMaine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering. Duy is now conducting postdoctoral research at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
The research team, which includes UMaine professors Rosemary Smith, Scott Collins and Laurie Connell, built a prototype two-wavelength colorimeter using primarily off-the-shelf commercial parts. The water-resistant apparatus produces results comparable to those obtained with an expensive bench-top spectrophotometer that requires technical expertise to operate, says the research team.
The instrument’s ease of use, low cost and portability are significant, say the researchers. The prototype cost researchers about $200 to build; a top-shelf spectrophotometer can cost about $10,000.
A touch screen prompts users at each step of the protocol. Researchers say an Android app is being developed to enable future smartphone integration of the measurement system.
Duy says the device almost instantaneously identifies pathogenic organisms by capturing target RNA with synthetic probe molecules called peptide nucleic acids (PNAs). A cyanine dye is added to visualize the presence of probe-target complexes, which show up as a purple solution; solutions without the target RNA are blue.
The versatile instrument can also be adapted to detect other organisms. The researchers say, in theory, any organism that contains nucleic acids could be detected with the simple colorimetric test. They have verified the system works with RNA from a soil-borne fungus that infects potatoes.
The research team’s teaching and expertise spans several UMaine schools and departments, including Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, the Department of Chemistry, the School of Marine Sciences and the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences. The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided funding for the project.
The instrument is being incorporated into fresh and marine water testing in the Republic of Korea and the researchers say they’ll give several devices to state officials to test and use in the field in Maine.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.
Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.
Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.
The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.
“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.
Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.
In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.
In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.
“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”
One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.
“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.
For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.
“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”
Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.
To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.
Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.
“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.
Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.
“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
Pamela Simpkins, a licensed social worker who is currently enrolled at the University of Maine in the master of social work program, wrote an analysis for the Sun Journal titled “We can make a difference in a child’s life.”
The Maine Edge spoke with Kelly Koss, a University of Maine student pursuing a master’s degree in food science and human nutrition, about her study that will test whether children are more apt to eat vegetables that are novel, bright colors. Koss said she has always been interested in childhood nutrition and the results of her research may provide useful information for parents, educators or anyone else working to encourage healthy eating habits for children.
The University of Maine Graduate School is accepting submissions for the Graduate Student Photography Contest and Grad Talks: Graduate Student Videography Contest. Both contests are open to all UMaine graduate students, and the top winners will receive cash prizes. Submissions for the photo contest can be entered into one of three categories: grad student life, grad student research or grad student teaching. Submissions for the new video contest should be two minutes long and should explain to a general audience what the graduate student does in either research, service or teaching. Any video technique, such as film or animation, may be used. Video and photo submissions are due by Monday, March 17. For more information, including guidelines and submission information, contest applications and photo release forms, visit the Graduate School website.
Bob Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, and Joe Galetti, a UMaine graduate student, were featured in an episode of the PBS show “America’s Heartland.” Bayer spoke about research being conducted into how lobster shells can be used in food products and Galetti spoke about his research into how to develop a food market for invasive green crabs. “America’s Heartland” was created to give consumers an inside look at the people and processes involved in bringing food, fuel and fiber to those in the United States and around the world, according to the show’s website.
The Bangor Daily News published a feature article on Roosevelt Boone, a former University of Maine football player and current graduate student pursuing master’s degrees in kinesiology and physical education as well as human development. Boone is the co-founder of Strong Mind-Strong Body Inc., a nonprofit organization that sponsors free programs that promote physical education, wellness and nutrition for children ages 10–17. Boone, who co-founded the organization with his mother, has run three summer camps at UMaine and has traveled to Ghana twice to share his knowledge with less fortunate children. GHANAsoccernet and Sun Journal also carried the BDN report.
University of Maine graduate students in the College of Education and Human Development teamed up with Tri-County Technical Center (TCTC) to develop and implement support for the pre-technical program.
TCTC offers 10 career and technical programs to high school students from six schools in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties. The pre-technical program serves students facing challenges in traditional educational settings, offering such fields as culinary arts, metal manufacturing and automotive technology.
In a study of TCTC’s pre-technical programming, UMaine Human Development graduate students enrolled in HUD 553: Program Planning and Evaluation identified understaffing and insufficient funding as the primary challenges to expanding the center’s sustainable agriculture efforts. In the UMaine course, taught by adjunct instructor and TCTC Student Services Coordinator Brian Welsh, the graduate students worked with TCTC staff and administration to develop a recruitment and selection process for field placements, resulting in two students interning with the pre-tech program, and helped secure $6,500 in funding through Lowe’s/Skills USA to build a greenhouse this spring to expand the sustainable energy program.
The Maine Edge reported on a study being conducted by Kelly Koss, a University of Maine student pursuing a master’s degree in food science and human nutrition. Koss is seeking 100 children to take part in her research that will test whether they are more apt to eat a vegetable that is a novel, bright color, such as purple potatoes or orange cauliflower.