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K-State Today

May 8, 2018

Three Kansas State University researchers awarded more than $415,000 to study microbiomes

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Kansas State University researchers Dong Lin, Colby Moorberg and Prathap Parameswaran have received three of five grants awarded to researchers at Kansas institutions to study water, plant and soil microbiomes.

The grants were made by the large, statewide Kansas award from the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or NSF EPSCoR, which aims to build research and development capacity. The theme of the statewide project is Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems, or MAPS. The $20 million project seeks to use genomic analysis to enhance agricultural productivity and mitigate environmental problems.

Lin, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, will receive $137,630 to use 3D printing to develop novel cellular structures from cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls and fibers. Lin's goal is to produce an artificial wood-like material and test how well it mimics the microstructure of wood inside trees by inoculating with bacteria to determine if they are able to colonize the matrix as they would in natural wood.

Moorberg, assistant professor of agronomy, will receive $141,885 to study the soil in the vicinity of plant roots known as the rhizosphere. Soil and microorganisms in the rhizosphere are influenced by plants and their stresses, but instruments that measure the changes and capture data are expensive and labor-intensive to use. Moorberg will work to develop an inexpensive camera system and components to automate image capture and analysis to examine the effects of periods of intense drought followed by periods of intense rainfall — known as weather whiplash — on root growth.

Parameswaran, assistant professor of civil engineering, will receive $136,908 to test his hypothesis that wastewater-enriched microbial communities in land-applied nutrient products from an anaerobic membrane bioreactor will help regulate nitrogen and phosphorus release rates in topsoil. Parameswaran has already demonstrated successful operation of a pilot-scale anaerobic membrane bioreactor that treats around 1,000 gallons of wastewater per day at Fort Riley.

The grants were awarded by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Award program. According to Beth Montelone, Kansas State University senior associate vice president for research, the program is an important workforce development effort.

"These grants go to early career faculty to help in the start of their independent academic careers," Montelone said. "They are awarded based on a statewide competition in which faculty submit NSF-style proposals that are selected on the basis of out-of-state reviews and discussion among the research officers of the participating Kansas institutions."

Read more about Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Award recipients or read more about Kansas State University's involvement in MAPS

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