Friday, July 15, 2016

OU Study on Diversity of Microbial Groups Demonstrates the Effects Of Human-Caused Changes in Climate, Land Use and Other Factors

By Jana Smith, Director
Strategic Communications for R&D

Norman, Okla.—A University of Oklahoma-led research team has conducted a study on the diversity of microbial communities that demonstrates the effects of human-caused changes in climate, land use and other factors.  In this study, researchers show the diversity of soil bacteria, fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria all are better predicted by variation in environmental temperature rather than pH.

Jizhong Zhou, director of the Institute for Environmental Genomics and professor in the Department of Microbial and Plant Biology and School of Civil Environmental Sciences, OU Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Gallogly College of Engineering, leads the research project with assistance from the University of Arizona, The Santa Fe Institute, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa and University of New Mexico.  Zhou is an affiliate of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Tsinghua University.

The significance of this research project follows:  (1) first demonstration that temperature plays a primary role in shaping microbial diversity in the forest soils; (2) first study to illustrate that metabolic theory of ecology is applicable to microbial communities; and (3) first study to reveal that temperature is important in regulating species diversity but it could operate in different ways between plants and microorganisms.

“Temperature mediates continental-scale diversity of microbes in forest soils,” was published in Nature Communications on July 5, 2016.  This research was supported by the National Science Foundation MacroSystems Biology program under the contract NSF EF-1065844, the OU Office of the Vice President for Research, the Collaborative Innovation Center for Regional Environmental Quality at the Tsinghua University and the National Science Foundation of China.

Rural Educators Engage in Bioanalytical Engineering Research and Teaching

By Jana Smith, Director
Strategic Communications for OU R&D

Arnold Rech, Fort Towson High School; Laura Lewis, RET program manager and graduate research assistant; Niccole Rech, Fort Towson High School; Joseph Albrecht, Liberty High School; Ashley Rodriguez, Clinton High School; Mark Nanny, RET director; Sue Flaming, Foyil Junior/High School; and Shawn Cusack, Northwest Technology Center

Norman, Okla.—Six science and mathematics teachers from rural high schools in Oklahoma are engaged in a National Science Foundation-supported summer program at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for BioAnalysis in an effort to improve STEM teaching in rural classrooms and increase the number of rural students who select and successfully graduate from a higher education STEM field.   

“Combining the teaching expertise of the high school teachers with the research expertise of the faculty creates a powerful synergism for producing innovative and dynamic science curricula that directly impact current issues pertinent to rural Oklahoman communities,” said Mark Nanny, director of the Rural Educators Program and professor of environmental science in the Gallogly College of Engineering.

Oklahoma rural educators selected for the 2016 summer program include: Arnold and Niccole Rech, Fort Towson High School; Ashley Rodriguez, Clinton High School; Sue Flaming, Foyil Junior/High School; Joe Albrecht, Liberty High School; and Shawn Cusak, Northwest Technology Center.  The program includes laboratory work, seminars on real-world applications of bioanalytical engineering, curricula development and design, and evaluation and assessment activities.

Each educator is paired with a faculty mentor over seven weeks doing cutting-edge research in OU laboratories.  Besides learning research skills, the program also focuses on developing classroom curricula and transferring research experiences into the classroom.  A workshop on writing successful proposals focuses on rural educators preparing proposals for their classroom curricula.  In the final week, educators present research activities, classroom curricula and prepare a research poster for display in the classroom and OU laboratory.

While much of the current research in bioanalytical engineering focuses on medical problems, bioanalytical engineering is a powerful tool for all areas involving biology, such as the improved production of biofuels, the impact of biofilms on the biocorrosion of steel infrastructure in the petroleum industry and the environmental bioremediation of groundwater.

Bioanalytical engineering presents rural educators with a dynamic and vibrant field rooted in fundamental concepts of molecular biology, biochemistry, cellular biology, chemistry and physics.  Combined with engineering design methodology and application, it provides opportunities for educators to enrich their teaching of these fundamental concepts, showing their students how knowledge in these fields can directly impact critical issues related to medicine, human health, energy resources and the environment.

Among the research opportunities available to educators through this program are the design of personal anti-cancer drugs, environmental engineering, biocorrosion engineering, biofuel processing, fabrication of bioanalytical devices and advancement of computational methods.   For more information about the rural educators program, contact Mark Nanny at