There is some interesting work being done recently on identifying the strain of phytophthera that caused the Irish potato famine back in the 1840s. Really very interesting from a technical angle. They managed to get enough DNA from dried museum samples to identify the strain of phytophthera and how this oomycete strain differed from modern strains.
It is also very interesting since it highlights how this fungal cousin has changed and adapted to the introduction of new blight resistant potato crops. Clearly, we can’t forget about infectious diseases of the past, and we should keep working on developing new disease resistant strains and ways we can manage agriculture that reduce ecosystem susceptibility to pathogens.
The BBC has a pretty good summary of the work located here.
Just read an interesting article that noted 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the development of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. It is odd to think that one of the greatest technological feats in agriculture might also be one of the worst environmental threats we face today. My only complaint with the article is that they don’t talk very much about organic or agroecological attempts to address our over reliance on nitrogen fertilizers. Most of the research I’ve seen suggests that our nitrogen problems will not be solved by fertilizer management alone.
Just finished a lab incubation of agricultural soils varying in management type. Also looking forward to seeing how the soils respond to simple substrates versus cellulose additions. Many thanks to all the folks who helped with the processing and handling.
I recently got out of the lab for a day to help the Organic Cropping Systems group with some field work. It was a beautiful day to plant potatoes. I’m looking forward to the harvest in the fall. Hopefully some of the techniques the group is working on will produce a bumper crop with relatively low impact.
So I was working with our carbon/nitrogen analyzer a few months back, and it had a pretty bad air leak. I opened up the combustion chamber and found that the intense heat of the furnace had cracked the ceramic combustion tube. For future reference 1300 degrees C is pretty dang hot. The new combustion tube seems to be ok so far, but it looks like even the slightest defect can really kill these tubes.
I went sampling this past weekend, because I realized that if I wanted any soils for winter greenhouse experiments I needed them soon. Any later and the ground would be completely frozen solid. As it was, I feel like a real hardcore soil scientist because it was about 28 degrees with gusty winds when I sampled. Luckily the thin layer of snow and corn stover kept the soils from being totally frozen. See below for pictures of the sites near Penn Yan, NY and my collection of 90 plus gallons of soil.
I went to a wedding recently in Bozeman, MT and had a chance to make a quick stop at Yellowstone National park. It’s famous for microbes adapted to extremely hot and salty conditions (and I guess some sort of geysers too).
Below you can see a few of the wonderful habitats. The heat is pretty evident from the steam–it results from being on the edge of a giant supervolcano after all. The greenish tinge is microbes in action, and the smell of sulfate reducing archaea was pretty strong too.
One of my current projects involves incubating agricultural soils with different management histories to test how management and timing substrate addition affects soil respiration, nitrogen mineralization, and microbial community structure.
The soil is sitting in a modified vacuum filter unit with a 0.2 micron filter. Sitting on a teflon plug in the middle of the soil is an alkaline carbon dioxide trap (the little flask). When we seal the chamber we can measure total respiration, and when we open it and run water through the soil into the collection vessel in the bottom we can analyze the amount of nitrogen mineralized.
Hello, I am a postdoctoral associate in the Horticulture department at Cornell University. My research focuses on the interaction of soil microbes and agricultural management practices, and how they affect soil productive and function. I will be adding more to this site later, but for the time being you can refer to my graduate school webpage.