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CAFNR Research Digest
CAFNR Office of Research Newsletter // July 16, 2020 // 2(13)
Feature Stories
Going Virtual: CAFNR Agricultural Research Centers Moving Forward With Mostly Virtual Field Days (click to read)
Going Virtual: CAFNR Agricultural Research Centers Moving Forward With Mostly Virtual Field Days »

Following discussions with local health departments and advisory boards, all educational field days offered by the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) Agricultural Research Centers, except one, will be hosted virtually this year.

CAFNR Faculty Earn 2020 President’s Awards (click to read)
CAFNR Faculty Earn 2020 President’s Awards »

Each year, the UM System President’s Awards are presented on behalf of President Mun Choi to faculty members across the four universities of the UM System. This year Thomas Spencer, Chung-Ho Lin and Randall Miles were recognized for ‘exceptional contributions.’

Research Highlights
The Importance of Inland Fish (click to read)
The Importance of Inland Fish »

Working group creates online database of academic papers related to the effects of climate change on inland fish

Graduate Student Spotlight
Sanzida Rahman - Plant, Insect and Microbial Sciences (click to read)
Sanzida Rahman - Plant, Insect and Microbial Sciences

What is your research focus?
If we look at natural environment, we see some plants are doing quite well than others in terms of resistance to pathogens. It is intriguing why some plant species are resistant to certain pathogens whereas some others are not. The answer lies in the mechanisms of plant immune system, meaning the ways they defend themselves against infectious agents. It is important to understand how differently plants species under different clades defend themselves against different types of pathogens. Do they follow the same mechanism, or how unique is their mechanism towards resistance against pathogens? These are the questions I have found puzzling.

Currently, I am working on developing a transformation protocol for lettuce using CRISPR genome editing technology. The goal is to establish lettuce transgenic lines that will enable us to identify the role of a lipase-like protein called Enhanced Disease Susceptibility1 (EDS1) in both basal and Effector-Triggered Immunity (ETI). We are interested in EDS1 because it is considered as a highly conserved positive immune regulator for both basal and ETI of plants under different clades.

Our lab discovered that EDS1 plays a key role in both defense and recognition of disease agents. Yet, we do not really know how this mechanism works. Previously, several researchers studied the fundamentals of plant innate mechanisms, such as Pattern-Triggered Immunity (PTI) and ETI, mainly in Arabidopsis and other plants such as rice, tobacco, etc. Interestingly, lettuce has a distinct immune system compared to other established plant systems (e.g. Arabidopsis, rice etc.). Therefore, our study is particularly important because it focuses on unlocking the fundamental mechanisms of plant innate immune response in lettuce by using genome editing tool, CRISPR/cas.

Why does this field interest you?
Since my undergrad, I have always been very inclined to pursue a career where I can learn more about plant-pathogen interaction. Before coming to Mizzou, I have worked on research projects mainly dealing with crop responses to the nutrient limitation and pathogen infection. I always had a strong interest to broaden my knowledge into the molecular aspects of plant stress biology.

When I was hired by Dr. Gassmann, I was very delighted on the fact that I would get a chance to pursue my interest. Now, the more I am exploring about plant immune responses and their interaction with pathogens, the more I became fascinated by it. I think I am finally settling my interest in this field of study, as I believe we can do greater good to humankind if we can unlock the fundamental mechanisms of how plants defend themselves against infectious agents.

Furthermore, if we can translate or incorporate our findings into the plants that are lacking effective defense mechanisms, we will be able to produce plants that are more resistant to different diseases. Eventually, this will enable us to produce more food and we will have a better chance to withstand the increasing food demand worldwide.

Why did you decide to come to Mizzou?
While I was on the verge of my MS studies, I had shortlisted few universities based on my research interests and scopes. Mizzou was on the top of that list, not only because its Division of Plant Sciences is top ranked nationally, but also because of the location of the campus (in between two major cities, St. Louis and Kansas City).

I also wanted to live with my husband, who had just moved back to Columbia, Missouri, and started working as a post-doctoral research fellow at Mizzou. So, when Dr. Gassmann offered me a position in his lab as a PhD student, I did not think twice coming to Mizzou. I joined Dr. Gassmann’s lab Fall 2019, right after I completed my MS from North Dakota State University. I love how lively and culturally diverse the Mizzou campus is. I love working here every single day.

Who is your advisor?
Dr. Walter Gassmann is my advisor, who is not only an excellent mentor but also a kindhearted person. I am very happy being a part of his lab and consider myself fortunate receiving his guidance.

What are your future career plans?
I would like to invest my knowledge and research expertise in improving disease resistance and other economically important traits of crops using the CRISPR genome editing technology. For that, I wish to pursue a career in research, be it in industry or academia. Someday, I would like to see myself devoted to both teaching and research, mentoring students of my own.

Research Roars

Charles Nilon Named the Newest Holder of the William J. Rucker Professorship in Fisheries and Wildlife

Charles Nilon, professor of urban wildlife management in the School of Natural Resources, was recently named the newest holder of the William J. Rucker Professorship in Fisheries and Wildlife. From its inception in 1944, the William J. Rucker Professorship in Fisheries and Wildlife’s purpose has been for the “instruction of youth upon the subject of the value and preservation of wild life.” Funds are used primarily to support graduate research assistant stipends. To read more, click here.

Midscale Research Infrastructure Workshop: Precision Nanoscale Patterning and Characterization – From Cybernetic Proteins to Nanoengineered Quantum Devices

Hosted by the University of Missouri and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, this workshop aims to establish a platform for exchanging ideas in recent innovations and trends in sub-5 nm fabrication and characterization techniques by bringing together scientists and researchers from multidisciplinary areas of engineering, physics, chemistry, and biology for seeking a path forward towards advancing 3D nanofabrication, additive manufacturing, and nano-electronic devices.

The workshop is August 5-7, 2020 and will be held virtually via Zoom due to COVID-19. For more information or to register, click here.

In The News

Dicamba: What does the research say?

The Farmer

Wastewater testing could provide early warning of COVID-19 spread

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Japanese beetles have wreaked havoc on plants across the state. Mizzou researchers hope to change that.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

COVID-19 causes food prices to move in opposite directions for farmers and consumers

Columbia Tribune

The photo featured in the header is of sunflowers at the South Farm Research Center, Columbia, Mo., which have been planted and are growing. They need about another month to fully bloom. To learn more about the South Farm Research Center, visit: