February 1, 2011
- Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station dons new name to better reflect breadth
- Michigan holds strong potential to lead the bioeconomy
- Big city life may make residents lean toward green, study says
- Three AgBioResearch scientists named AAAS fellows
- AgBioResearch associate director Buhler to serve as interim CANR dean
The Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station has a new name: MSU AgBioResearch.
Founded in 1888, the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station has played a pivotal role in enhancing agriculture, managing natural and community resources, and enhancing the quality of life in Michigan, the nation and the world, said AgBioResearch director Steve Pueppke.
I am very pleased with the outcome of this naming process,” he said. “Our new name, along with the tagline ‘leading innovation in food, natural resources and energy,’ better conveys the breadth and relevance of the work we do while remaining true to our land-grant mission in support of Michigan agriculture.”
The new name was selected following a yearlong process that included discussions with both internal and external partners, Pueppke said.
Nearly 400 scientists from six colleges at MSU are part of the AgBioResearch network. In addition to agricultural production research, AgBioResearch scientists are investigating topics ranging from alternative energy and biofuel production to childhood obesity, community development, environmental stewardship, and food safety and security.
AgBioResearch is committed to turning new discoveries into practical, real-world solutions that generate economic prosperity, sustain natural resources and enhance the quality of life for all, said Jeffrey Armstrong, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.MSU AgBioResearch provides essential research and development leadership for Michigan’s growing agriculture industry,” he said. “The new name better communicates the important purpose it serves for state employers, communities and residents.” For more information, visit www.agbioresearch.msu.edu
Michigan’s strong research institutes, diverse agriculture and plentiful forests position it to become a bioeconomy leaderl, according to Michigan State University researchers.
“Michigan has geographic advantages over other states in diverse feedstocks, underutilized forestry resources and vast water resources,” Peterson said. “A thriving bioeconomy is not a certainty, but Michigan has the ability to shape its own future and has significant opportunities to expand its bioeconomy and advance its position on the global bioeconomy market.”
An inventory of alternative-fuel enterprises developed with Ann Arbor-based Shepherd Advisors reveals that Michigan has more than 100 biofuel, bioenergy and biomaterial operations. A public-private partnership in Flint, for example, is developing a biogas plant to generate heat for buildings and methane to fuel buses.
Michigan’s corporate assets include Dow Chemical Co., Ford Motor Co. and KTM industries Inc., which are growing their biomaterials and biochemical businesses.
Michigan ranks in the top third of states in commercial ethanol and biodiesel crops and now hosts five ethanol plants. Its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, one of only seven in the country, is under construction. A number of smaller scale anaerobic digester facilities, turning animal waste and other waste into methane, also are in use while MSU researchers work to make the technology more broadly accessible.
The state currently ranks in the top fifth in ethanol consumption and electricity production from biomass. Michigan grows more than 19 million acres of forest, a 6 percent increase since 1980. More than 1.7 million megawatt hours of electricity are produced from burning woody biomass at 10 plants, Peterson said.
“Honestly, there are other states that are more competitive with respect to corn biomass, but Michigan’s diverse crop mix and strong timberland resources put the state in an excellent position if cellulosic ethanol becomes commercially viable,” he said.
Cost-effectively processing cellulosic biomass such as corn-stalks and wood into fuel poses steep challenges. AgBioResearch chemical engineering and materials science scientist Bruce Dale is a leader in that technology, working with university-affiliated biobased technology development organization MBI to scale up his laboratory process.
Corn is the nation’s prime source of ethanol today, but using commercial crops for biofuel raises a host of food-versus-fuel issues, an area of intense scrutiny by MSU researchers. Row crops require intense petrochemical and water inputs, and expanding their cultivated acreage for biofuel uses brings up a number of environmental issues. Among those are the impact on beneficial insects and wildlife, versus cellulosic fuel feedstock alternatives such as native prairie grasses.
Many such factors will ultimately decide Michigan’s bioeconomy position, said Doug Gage, director of the MSU Bioeconomy Network.
“Technological innovations from our research labs are necessary, but we also will need to demonstrate their commercial viability, attract investment, and promote acceptance by potential producers and end users,” he said.
The Bioeconomy Network supports studies like these because they provide a much needed practical framework to guide Michigan’s efforts, Gage added.
“This is such a new economic sector that there is no roadmap to follow,” he said. “Identifying the state’s assets and developing plausible scenarios can only help enhance the state’s bioeconomy position.”
A series of Product Center white papers on the bioeconomy can be found at http://aec.msu.edu/product/strategic.htm.
The downsides of China’s explosive urbanization – such as pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – now are joined by an upside: better environmental citizens.
It’s the first time that scientists have weighed employment and leadership when considering environmental behavior in China’s cities. In a paper published in a recent edition of the British journal Environmental Conservation, scientists at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) at Michigan State University and collaborators in the United States and China show that city size – especially those with large numbers of good jobs – leads people to pro-environmental behaviors such as recycling plastic bags and sorting their trash.
“It is essential to study human behavior because it directly affects the environment,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, CSIS director, AgBioResearch scientist and a co-author on the paper. Liu also holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU. “As China is the world’s fastest growing economy and cities are the economic engines with severe environmental challenges, understanding environmental behavior of urban residents in China is particularly important.”
Xiaodong Chen -- who conducted the study while working on his doctorate at MSU -- and his colleagues took advantage of China’s General Social Survey of 2003. That year, some 5,000 respondents in urban areas of various sizes were asked specifically about their environmental behavior.
The study also noted that the workplace appears to be a strong leader in environmental education, a dynamic that may be particularly powerful in China, which has a tradition of policies and regulations being shaped from the top down. Employers, with their accompanying status and political power, are proving to be powerful drivers of conservation, and those workers who are workplace leaders report the most environmentally friendly behavior.
As its urban areas continue to grow, China can use the findings to determine which audiences to target to encourage behaviors that can help counter the environmental costs associated with rapid economic growth.
The study was administered jointly by the Survey Research Center of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Department of Sociology at Renmin University of China.
In addition to Liu and Chen, Nils Peterson and Graise Lee of North Carolina State University; Vanessa Hull, a doctoral candidate in CSIS; Chuntian Lu, a doctoral student in MSU’s sociology department; and Dayong Hong of Renmin University in China are co-authors of the paper. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Three AgBioResearch scientists are among six Michigan State University (MSU) researchers named AAAS fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The AgBioResearch scientists are Jianguo “Jack” Liu, professor of fisheries and wildlife; Katherine Osteryoung, professor of plant biology; and Michael Thomashow, university distinguished professor of molecular genetics. Other MSU faculty members honored are Asgi Fazleabas, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology; William Hartmann, professor of physics and astronomy; and Bradley Sherrill, university distinguished professor of physics and astronomy.
In the past two years, 11 MSU faculty members, including five AgBioResearch scientists, have been named AAAS fellows. Because the honors are peer-driven, these prominent awards are worth celebrating, said Ian Gray, MSU vice president for research and graduate studies.
“These scientists have been making significant contributions to their disciplines for some time, so this recognition is well-deserved,” Gray said. “Researchers like these, who tirelessly and creatively provide the foundations for great advances in human knowledge, should be celebrated by their peers.”
Liu was honored for his pioneering research that integrates ecology, various social sciences and policy to achieve environmental sustainability at local, national and global scales. He holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and serves as director of the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. He is known around the world for his work on the relationship between human and natural systems and is the principal investigator for the International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS-Net), funded by the National Science Foundation.
“It is very encouraging to see that the interest in CHANS research has been rapidly growing around the world, and more people are realizing that understanding CHANS complexity lays a foundation for achieving global sustainability,” Liu said. “A major purpose of CHANS-Net is to enhance communications and collaborations across the CHANS community worldwide.”
Osteryoung’s work focuses on uncovering the network of genes and proteins controlling chloroplast division in plants. By combining the powerful genetic and genomic resources of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana with the tools of biochemistry and cell biology, Osteryoung and her research group are working to identify the components of the chloroplast division machinery, define their functions within the division complex and discover how chloroplast division is regulated. The long-term goal of Osteryoung’s research is to develop a comprehensive model describing the biochemical and molecular processes that govern chloroplast division in plants.
“The division and proliferation of chloroplasts is critical for the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis and is an essential aspect of plant development,” Osteryoung said. “I was surprised and honored to be recognized by my colleagues in the AAAS for our work on this complex and fundamentally important problem in plant biology.”
Thomashow was selected for his contributions to the field of plant biology, focusing on the identification of stress response pathways involved in freezing and drought tolerance. Stresses, including extremes in temperature and water deficit, are major factors that limit the geographical locations where food and potential bioenergy crops can be grown. Thomashow’s overarching research interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms that plants have evolved to tolerate abiotic stresses. His research led to the identification of the CBF response pathway, a stress pathway that is highly conserved in plants and has major roles in freezing and drought tolerance.
“I have been very fortunate to be a member of the MSU faculty for more than 20 years and to be surrounded by a community of superb interactive scientists,” said Thomashow, who is also the director of the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory. “Any success and recognition that my lab has had must be shared with my MSU colleagues.”
This year, 503 AAAS members were named fellows on the basis of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The new fellows will be honored Feb. 19 during the association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science and other publications. Founded in 1848, AAAS includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science serving 10 million individuals. The tradition of naming AAAS Fellows began in 1874.
Douglas Buhler, associate dean of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), has been selected to serve as interim dean of the college.
Buhler, a professor of crop and soil sciences and associate director of MSU AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station), assumed the interim dean post Feb. 1 and will continue in that position until a permanent dean is identified through a national search. Buhler succeeds Jeffrey Armstrong, who was recently named president of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
"Professor Buhler combines a strong academic record with a deep understanding of the college, its traditions and its aspirations," said MSU Provost Kim Wilcox. "I look forward to working with him in the coming months as the college continues to move forward and thank Dean Armstrong for his many years of leadership in CANR."
Buhler came to MSU in 2000, when he was appointed professor and chairperson of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, a position he held until 2005. He has served as CANR associate dean for research, as well as associate director of AgBioResearch, since 2005.
He also has served as director of Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), a cooperative effort with AgBioResearch, MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture to advance Michigan’s economy through its plant-based agriculture.
Before coming to MSU, Buhler conducted research for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before that, he was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin.
Buhler's research and outreach activities focus on the ecology of weedy plant species in agricultural systems. His research results are being used to develop and implement improved weed management systems and have resulted in more than 330 publications.
Buhler received his doctorate and master’s degree from the University of Nebraska and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.