CABBI scientists will showcase their research and their knowledge by staying involved with events and projects on campus and in local communities. The Center is excited to be involved with educational partnerships, public presentations, and student mentoring. A sampling of outreach initiatives:
2019 BRC Modeling Workshop
On May 2-3, CABBI hosted Bioenergy Research Center scientists for a modeling workshop at the University Club in downtown Chicago. Dozens of researchers from CABBI, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), and the Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI) worked together on improving understanding for modeling methods. They also explored how to:
- project potential feedstock yields,
- understand greenhouse gas flux dynamics in relation to land use change,
- analyze the implications of alternative feedstocks on water quality,
- quantify marginal land for energy crops,
- conduct technoeconomic and life-cycle analyses of biofuel and bioproduct supply chains, and
- integrate biophysical and economic information to examine potential land uses.
The researchers further identified opportunities to collaborate on data underlying the computational analyses, and they discussed the potential to develop user-friendly platforms to share models and data.
Switchgrass V Conference: Dedicated Energy Crops and Native Grasses for the Emerging Bioeconomy
CABBI Co-PI D.K. Lee and his U.S. Department of Energy-funded team hosted the fifth annual international conference on July 22-25, 2019, in Champaign, Ill.
Participants discussed state-of-the-art research into switchgrass and other dedicated energy crops grown for forage, conservation, and bioenergy feedstock production.
Switchgrass V included keynote speakers; sessions on genomics and genetic improvement, microbiomes and ecosystem services, agronomy and sustainable production, and postharvest processing and economics; as well as a student poster competition. Participants visited Illinois’ 320-acre Energy Farm, a model of production for large feedstock grasses.
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
At West Virginia University
- In May 2019, Eddie Brzostek (photo, above) and his lab members hosted a group of fifth-graders from Eastwood Elementary School to the WVU research site.
- Members of the Brzostek Lab helped judge a local school science fair in May 2018 that focused on how light, nutrients, and talking to plants impacted growth. Later in the day, the team participated in a family Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fair, which included activities to introduce students and families to the science of climate change, and how soil respiration shifted as a function of air and soil temperature as well as carbon content. The team also walked families through a poster showing how bioenergy grasses might help mitigate future environmental change and provide energy security.
- A field site event in West Virginia in June 2018 (photo, right) was attended by 100 elementary school students, who learned about carbon and nitrogen cycling in ecosystems — and how healthy ecosystems store carbon, provide clean water, and promote biodiversity. The students measured photosynthesis, soil respiration, invertebrate diversity, nutrient levels, and root biomass.
At HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
- A researcher at HudsonAlpha discussed CABBI work in 2018 with high school educators enrolled in Genetic Technologies for All Classrooms (GTAC): Advanced Concepts, and spoke at a workshop to more than 100 high school life science educators about “genomics in the field.”
At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln
- Nebraska scientists highlighted CABBI research on May 18. 2019, at its Fascination of Plants Day (photo, above) in the Maxwell Arboretum on the UNL East Campus.
- CABBI researchers and staff from Nebraska participated in the UNL Women in Science Day in March 2019 (photo, right) with hands-on laboratory activities for women high school students from across Nebraska to promote interest in STEM education and careers. CABBI also participated in the event in April 2018.
- The university developed a curriculum and hosted a two-day high school teachers’ workshop on plant oils in 2018.
At the USDA Agricultural Research Service
- CABBI scientists participated in the 2018 Engineering Day in Peoria, Ill., with a biopolymers theme that was attended by approximately 1,800 people.
At Iowa State University
- CABBI scientists participated in 2018 outreach activities directly to the farming community through extension programs in Iowa.
At Brookhaven National Laboratory
- BNL is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program. In 2018, an internship went to Stony Brook University’s Brian Samuelson, a Biology major. Samuelson’s description of his work: “My work at Brookhaven National Laboratory focuses on understanding how oil is synthesized and stored in plant vegetative tissues such as leaves and stems. We use Arabidopsis thaliana and tobacco as model systems to help identify enzymes and metabolic regulators involved in oil metabolism in leaves. In the lab, I help with Arabidopsis seed planting on agar plates and seedling transfer from plates to soil. I use adult plants for DNA extraction, oil quantification by thin layer chromatography, protein analysis by Western blotting, and SDS-PAGE for protein expression. I also help with agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation to test some candidate genes for their ability to alter oil production in leaves. This work is exciting to me because increasing oil accumulation in vegetative tissues has potential to expand biofuel production from renewable resources, therefore reduce our dependence on depleting petroleum fuels.”
CABBI-supported Seminars and Symposia
March 5, 2019
“The Microbial Ecology of Our Homes”
Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology Seminar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Speaker: Noah Fierer, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder
- Co-sponsor: CABBI
Jan. 25, 2019
“Modeling Spatial Dependence and Economic Hotspots in Landowners’ Willingness to Supply Bioenergy Crops in the Northeastern United States”
Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE) Departmental Seminar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Speaker: Kate Zipp, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Penn State University
- Co-sponsors: CABBI, program for Environmental and Resource Economics (pERE)
Oct. 31, 2018
“Engineering Old and New Pathways for Plant Biomass Improvement”
Physiological and Molecular Plant Biology (PMPB) Seminar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Speaker: Richard A. Dixon, BioDiscovery Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, University of North Texas; Hagler Institute for Advanced Studies, Texas A&M University; Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI), Oak Ridge National Lab
- Abstract: High lignin content correlates with the recalcitrance of biomass to enzymatic saccharification during biofuel production and with reduced in-rumen digestibility of forages. As a result of many years work on the biosynthesis of lignin and its genetic controls in both the crop alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and the model plant Medicago truncatula, collaboration with a commercial partner has resulted in the release of low lignin alfalfa with superior forage quality and management characteristics. However, economic considerations support valorization, rather than removal, of lignin for biorefining. To this end, we have been working on the biosynthesis engineering of novel lignins, such a C-lignin, with favorable properties for conversion to bioproducts, and these studies are revealing new twists to the previously accepted pathways for synthesis of lignin. Proanthocyanidins (PAs, also known as condensed tannins) are the second most abundant plant polyphenolic compounds after lignin, and exhibit a range of protective, health promoting and organoleptic properties. We are working to introduce them into alfalfa to improve nutrition and prevent pasture bloat in ruminant animals. It is possible to engineer PAs in tissues that do not naturally accumulate them through ectopic expression of transcription factors. This approach does not, however, allow for the fine-tuning of PA structure in terms of chain length and monomer composition (i.e. the nature of the starter and extension units). Through analysis of transposon insertion mutants in M. truncatula, we have now shown that some enzymes of the accepted PA pathway have new functions that allow for control of PA chain length and composition. These observations will enable us to produce “designer” PAs for examination of PA structure-activity relationships in relation to forage quality and other properties.
- Co-sponsors: CABBI, Department of Crop Sciences