Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fungal factories may save hemlock forests

29.01.2007
University of Vermont researchers invent whey-based 'microfactory'

Reaching into a box glowing with fluorescent light, Stacie Grassano pulls out a tube. "This is a great one," she says, holding the clear plastic up to her face. Inside, a tree branch is speckled with white fluff. "It's growing really well," she says, handing it to Scott Costa.

Costa brings the branch close to his eye. "Yes," he says, with a boyish grin, "this is a fungus success story."

For some, a fungus success story means nothing is growing at the back of their refrigerator. But for Costa, research assistant professor of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and Grassano, his graduate student, the vigorous growth in their laboratory of this fungus, a strain called Lecanicillium mucarium, means a hopeful new chapter in the otherwise bleak tale of the eastern hemlock tree.

From Georgia to Maine, this once-mighty conifer is now succumbing to an exotic pest, hemlock woolly adelgid. First detected in the western US in 1924, the adelgid reached Virginia in the 1950s. An aphid-like insect, the adelgid kills eastern hemlocks within a few years after infestation, feeding on the sap at base of their needles and cutting off their nutrients.

While the adelgid, originally from Japan and China, appears to have no successful predators in North America, some native fungi—like the one Costa and Grassano have growing on branches in their laboratory—kill the pest.

Last December, Costa, Grassano, and two the other researchers, Vladimir Gouli and Jiancai Li, submitted a provisional patent for a new method of cheaply and effectively spreading the fungus, and other similar "biological controls," that might beat back the adelgid without having to use expensive, toxic pesticides. They call their approach a "whey-based fungal micro-factory."

Instead of growing fungi in a conventional factory and then transporting it out to a forest—a costly proposition—their factory will be the forest. Or, more accurately, tiny droplets of sweet whey—a cheap waste product of cheese production, inoculated with the right concentrations of the target fungus—will be their factory. By spraying the whey solution into an infected forest, they believe they can get the adelgid-killing fungi to reproduce in large numbers on its own.

"The sweet whey only costs 32 cents a pound," says Costa, who gets his donated from a New York-based cheese company, and receives support for his research from the USDA and EPA and other funders.

Whey is a far cheaper growing medium than those available in labs for the many fungi now in use as biological controls in agriculture and forestry.

And the whey serves as a nutritional resource, making each droplet a cozy biological factory for a fungal colony, pumping spores out into the forest long after the spraying teams have gone home.

If their laboratory tests continue to go well, the researchers anticipate starting field trials in 2008.

Their approach looks promising for many other applications of biological control for agriculture and forestry—especially in natural settings with economically low-value plants, like natural forests.

"We're not going to eradicate the adelgid," Costa says. "The best-case scenario for an insect-killing fungi is you inoculate the environment and get disease outbreaks to start cycling. The idea is to reduce the pest population to a level that is manageable, allowing some of the trees to make seeds, grow, and survive."

It's a pressing problem: In Shenandoah National Park most of the famous towering hemlocks are now dead. The adelgid has ravaged parts of Kentucky, North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains. Expanding northward, it has moved through Massachusetts into southern Maine and New Hampshire.

The only natural deterrent to the adelgid seems to be a very cold winter. With global warming, their northward spread seems inevitable. Though not officially recorded yet, "it's probably in southern Vermont now at population levels too low to easily detect," say Costa, who anticipates that the adelgid will be into Vermont's Champlain Valley in not too many years.

While the era of cutting hemlock for the tanning industry is over, there continues to be use of the tree for fiber and construction, and commercial forest owners have something to lose with the demise of the hemlock. But far more important, as the hemlocks expire they take an ecosystem down as they fall.

In cool hollows and along shady mountain streams the hemlock has grown for millennia where other trees wouldn't thrive: a quiet giant soaring to over 150 feet. With a range from Alabama along the Appalachians into the Canadian Maritimes, its shaggy crown creates a blueish green haven unmistakable to turkeys and deer (and hunters): a thick understory of duff, deep with shade that accentuates the black furrows of the hemlock's tannin-rich bark.

In winter, chickadees eat the small seed cones of the hemlock and they are only one species of many that depend on the hemlock not just for food but for the architecture of their world. Some warblers only nest in hemlocks and the mountain fish depend on the trees to keep streams cool.

"See all this white growth?" Costa says in his UVM lab, tracing his finger above the soft flat needles. "That's mycelium and likely as not there are spores at the end of each of those." To the untrained eye, the fungus he and Grassano are growing looks much like the pest they hope it will fight. Hiding on the underside of hemlock branches, the pest produces a white woolly tuft that gives it its name. The fungus looks white and woolly too. But the subtle difference may mean life or death for the eastern hemlock.

Joshua Brown | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uvm.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Trees and climate change: Faster growth, lighter wood
14.08.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Animals and fungi enhance the performance of forests
01.08.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Diving robots find Antarctic winter seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide

15.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Early opaque universe linked to galaxy scarcity

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>