Wetzstein new head of HLA

Hazel Wetzstein
Hazel Wetzstein

Hazel Wetzstein, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, has been appointed professor and head of Purdue University's Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

Wetzstein succeeds Robert Joly, who is returning to the faculty after serving eight years as department head.

"Dr. Wetzstein is a respected scholar and thoughtful leader," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture. "She made a deep and positive impression on the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and the college during her visits here, and I could not be more excited about the future of the department under her leadership."

Wetzstein received her bachelor's degree in biology from California State University and doctorate in botany from the University of California-Davis. She joined the biological sciences faculty at the University of Nevada before moving in 1980 to the University of Georgia. Her research emphasis has been in plant growth and development, reproductive biology, conservation and tissue culture, and medicinal plants.

The appointment is effective August 1.

By Keith Robinson

Deer-damaged forests recovering

White-tailed deer browse near West Lafayette, Indiana. White-tailed deer browse near West Lafayette, Indiana.

Regulated deer hunts in Indiana state parks have helped restore the health of forests suffering from decades of damage caused by overabundant populations of white-tailed deer, a Purdue study shows.

A research team led by Michael Jenkins, associate professor of forest ecology, found that a 17-year-long Indiana Department of Natural Resources policy of organizing hunts in state parks has successfully spurred the regrowth of native tree seedlings, herbs and wildflowers rendered scarce by browsing deer.

Jenkins said that while hunting may be unpopular with some, it is an effective means of promoting the growth and richness of Indiana's natural areas.

"We can't put nature in a glass dome and think it's going to regulate itself," he said. "Because our actions have made the natural world the way it is, we have an obligation to practice stewardship to maintain ecological balance."

Indiana state parks historically did not allow hunting. But by the 1990s, white-tailed deer populations in parks had swelled to such size that many species of native wildflowers such as trillium and lilies largely disappeared, replaced by wild ginger and exotic species such as garlic mustard and Japanese stiltgrass, plants not favored by deer. Oak and ash tree seedlings gave way to highly deer-resistant or unpalatable trees such as pawpaw.

The health of deer in state parks also dwindled as their food sources shrank.

To check the overabundant deer populations, the DNR introduced controlled hunts in state parks in 1993, with most parks adopting the strategy by 1996.

"Hunting in natural areas is controversial," Jenkins said. "But when deer are overabundant, they start to have undeniable negative impacts on the ecosystem."

Working with Christopher Webster, a Michigan Tech University professor and Purdue alumnus, Jenkins and then-master's student Lindsay Jenkins (no relation) tested the effectiveness of the hunting program by comparing the amount of plant cover in 108 plots in state parks and historically hunted areas with 1996-97 levels. They found that total plant cover in state parks more than doubled from 1996-97 to 2010. Herbs such as asters, violets and goldenrods increased from about 20 percent to 32 percent cover, and percent cover of grasses rose from 1 to 3 percent. Tree seedlings jumped from about 2 percent to about 13 percent of total plant cover, a finding that suggests when older trees die out, there will be younger trees to replace them, Jenkins said.

"With heavy populations of deer, tree seedlings often don't have a chance to survive," he said. "In those situations, the forest could lose its ability to reproduce itself and eventually cease to be healthy."

The study also showed that the hunting program led to the recovery of native species and discouraged the spread of invasive and exotic species, said Lindsay Jenkins.

"We saw a striking improvement in the quality and diversity of the forest understory in state parks compared with conditions before the hunting program," she said. "The deer management program is having a clear, beneficial impact on Indiana parks and could serve as a good example for nature preserves with overabundant deer in other states."

By Natalie van Hoose

Podcasts: listen and learn

The Street Where You Live 

Two new monthly podcasts from Purdue Extension provide helpful information that can be downloaded and listened to at any time.

The Street Where You Live helps residents and civic leaders develop strategies to grow their local economies and ensure quality of life. Scott Hutcheson, an economic and community development specialist, focuses on the need for such strategies in his podcast and an accompanying news column.

Got Nature? 

Another new podcast series, Got Nature? connects Purdue experts in nature and natural resources to a growing audience of people interested in the environment. "The Got Nature? podcast gives folks access to leading experts who will provide listeners with practical information to better appreciate our natural resources," said Purdue Extension wildlife specialist Brian MacGowan.

The podcasts are available on Purdue Extension's news column website. People can subscribe via email or access current and archived columns and podcasts online. Other Purdue Extension news columns cover home gardening, insects, and government and public policy.

By Olivia Maddox and Keith Robinson

DOE grant to advance biofuels research

a biofuel gas pump 

A research center at Purdue University's Discovery Park has been awarded a $12 million, four-year grant as part of a $100 million U.S. Department of Energy initiative to accelerate scientific breakthroughs needed to build the 21st-century energy economy.

The Purdue-led Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels (C3Bio) will use the additional funding to advance methods for converting plant lignocellulosic biomass—the bulk of the plant—to biofuels and other bio-based products by the use of new chemical catalysts and thermal treatments.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the award as part of the second round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers, which are focused on enabling fundamental advances in energy production, storage and use.

"The success of C3Bio in this arena of high-risk, high-reward research is revolutionizing how we view biomass—essentially the leftovers of our crop production processes—as one solution to future global energy demands," said Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

C3Bio director Maureen McCann, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Purdue Energy Center, said C3Bio is investigating the most carbon- and energy-efficient pathways to route the carbon trapped by photosynthesis in the bodies of plants into energy-dense fuels and high-value chemicals.

Awarded a $20 million grant by the federal government in the first round in 2009, the center also is researching how to produce biofuels that closely resemble gasoline and aviation fuel in terms of their molecular makeup and energy density, she said.

"We are accelerating the transformation of biomass that naturally occurs over geological ages to timescales of minutes," McCann said. "At C3Bio, chemists and chemical engineers are learning to work with highly complex mixtures of biomass components, while plant biologists work to improve biomass structures for new chemical conversion processes. We want to deliver the knowledge base for a sustainable and renewable bio-economy with product streams as diverse in functionality as those of the petrochemical industry."

By Phillip Fiorini

Schutz leads Purdue Extension's ANR

Michael Schutz
Michael Schutz

Purdue Extension dairy management specialist Michael Schutz has been appointed director of Extension's agriculture and natural resources programs in Indiana.

Schutz oversees such areas as farm management and safety, livestock, crops, energy, youth in agriculture, environmental stewardship and wildlife.

"Dr. Schutz has earned the respect of county Extension educators, campus specialists and Purdue partners through his dairy Extension programs," said Extension Director Jason Henderson.

"His collaborative leadership style will strengthen those relationships, which are essential to delivering world-class, research-based education programming to build vibrant communities, strong families and profitable businesses on Main Street and at the farm gate."

Schutz also is a professor of animal sciences at Purdue and associate head of the Department of Animal Sciences. His areas of expertise, in addition to dairy management, are in animal breeding and genetics.

He succeeds Jim Mintert, who is now director of Purdue's Center for Commercial Agriculture. The appointment was effective June 1.

By Keith Robinson

Grant paves way to commercialize PICS bags in Africa

A demonstration of the PICS bag is presented to a women's group in Kenya.
A $10-million grant from the Gates Foundation will help make the Purdue-developed PICS bags available to more farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. A demonstration of the PICS bag is presented to a women's group in Kenya. (Photo by Dieudonné Baributsa)

Purdue University is receiving a $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to put crop-saving PICS bags into the hands of more farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve their food security and income.

The award for the five-year PICS3 project moves the Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags from research and applications for only one crop to commercialization involving multiple crops.

"This project further extends a Purdue program that has long addressed a growing need for more abundant and safer food in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of our work in helping to reduce poverty and food insecurity globally," said university President Mitch Daniels. "The next step is a crucial and practical one—developing a system so that more farmers in Africa can use these essential crop storage bags for many crops."

The hermetic triple bagging—a chemical-free storage method developed by Professor Larry Murdock in Purdue's Department of Entomology—enables farmers to store a variety of major crops for more than one year after harvest. The technology helps improve food availability and increase income of smallholder farmers. When using PICS bags, farmers no longer need chemicals to control grain storage pests, and they can wait to sell their grain until they can get higher profits.

Farmers without the bags need to sell their crops soon after harvest or use insecticides, most of which have become ineffective or may not be safe because of improper use. Grain storage loss to insects, a major challenge for smallholder farmers, is estimated to be at least 20 percent for major crops such as corn and common beans.

PICS is a simple, proven technology that has helped millions of African farmers dramatically reduce their storage losses.

PICS technology was developed in the late 1980s by Purdue faculty, students and staff and partners in northern Cameroon with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Later, a second phase—PICS2—involved research into how the bags could be used to store other crops. The Gates Foundation also funded the initial PICS and PICS2 projects.

The PICS3 project will be implemented in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana in West Africa; Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia in East Africa; and Malawi in Southern Africa. Purdue is looking for funds from other donors to extend PICS technology through the rest of Africa and South Asia.

The cost-effective PICS storage method will make farmers more efficient by increasing food supply, eliminating the need for them to use more land to grow the same amount of salable crops, said project director Dieudonné Baributsa.

"By the end of the project, a sustainable system will be in place where the private sector will be well-equipped to continue developing profitable business in PICS bags," Baributsa said.

By Keith Robinson

Rocket science

The St. Joseph County 4-H Aerospace Club competed in the final round of a nationwide Team America Rocketry Challenge. The contest tested their skill at building and launching a model rocket carrying a delicate cargo of raw eggs. (Video by Steve Doyle)

A group of 4-H members from St. Joseph County competed in the final round of a nationwide contest that tested their skill at building and launching a model rocket carrying a delicate cargo of raw eggs.

The Team America Rocketry Challenge is part of the aerospace and defense industry's initiative to build a stronger U.S. workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM. 4-H is supporting STEM efforts through many of its programs.

"4-H has been teaching young people about science, technology, engineering and math for over 100 years," said Renee McKee, assistant director of Purdue Extension and program leader for 4-H at Purdue University. "New hands-on opportunities such as this one provide youth with additional chances to grow, learn and develop confidence as they apply skills and concepts they have learned in their earlier 4-H efforts."

Competitors had the task of designing a model rocket that can travel 825 feet into the air and back in 48-50 seconds while carrying two raw eggs that must return to the ground undamaged. Scores were based on altitude and speed.

The team from St. Joseph County included Matt Anderson, 15, of Osceola; Michael Streusborger, 15, of Mishawaka; and Adam Hellinga, 16, of South Bend. Dennis Miller, a 4-H volunteer from Mishawaka, assisted the group. The competition was held in May, near Washington, D.C. While they didn't win the competition, they had a winning experience.

By Emma Hopkins

"Greener" control for termites

Sequencing the genome of termites will help researchers develop more specific control measures.

A team of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the Nevada dampwood termite, providing an inside look into the biology of the social insect and uncovering new genetic targets for pest control.

Michael Scharf, a Purdue University professor of entomology who participated in the collaborative study, said the genome could help researchers develop control strategies that are more specific than the broad-spectrum chemicals conventionally used to treat termite infestations.

"The termite genome reveals many unique genetic targets that can be disrupted for better termite control," said Scharf, the O. Wayne Rollins/Orkin Chair in Molecular Physiology and Urban Entomology. "Depending on which gene or protein is targeted, we could disrupt termites' neurological processes, molting, digestive factors or cuticle formation. We're just limited by our imagination."

The Nevada dampwood termite is the first termite species to have its genome sequenced. While dampwood termites do not cause significant damage to buildings, they are closely related to key pests such as the eastern subterranean termite, which is the main pest species in Indiana and the Eastern U.S.

By Natalie van Hoose