UNC Faculty Receive Combined $645,000 in USDA Grants

Pat Burns and Karen Gomez received grant funding from the USDA for their projects to improve agriculture.

UNC faculty researchers were recently awarded multiyear grants totaling more than $645,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

UNC biologists Patrick Burns and Susana "Karen" Gomez are the lead project directors on their grants and will conduct separate research projects focused on improving agriculture.

Burns was awarded a $495,975 grant through August 2017 for a project to address early pregnancy loss in beef and dairy cattle, a major problem that translates to millions of dollars lost in meat and milk production.

Burns has conducted extensive research on the topic, having previously received a USDA grant to study the effects of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil on reproductive tissues. His initial findings that fish oil reduces the hormone prostaglandin, which must be blocked during pregnancy, show promise for widening the window for pregnancies to occur.

The current study will examine the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on lipid microdomains and mobility of prostaglandin receptors on the plasma membrane of luteal cells. Outcomes from these studies may allow for the development of new feeding strategies with omega-3 fatty acids to regulate the reproductive cycle and prevent early pregnancy loss in dairy and beef cows

Future outcomes from these studies may allow for the development of new feeding strategies with omega-3 fatty acids to regulate the reproductive cycle and prevent early pregnancy loss in dairy and beef cows.

Gomez is studying three-way interactions involving potatoes, soil fungi and insects. Potato is the fourth most consumed food crop in the world and is a leading vegetable crop in the United States. In Colorado, it is grown year-round in the San Luis Valley and northeastern plains.

Her project also involves two pests of agricultural importance, the potato aphid (phloem-feeding insect), and the cabbage looper (chewing insect). Most plants can form beneficial associations with fungi found in soil -- known as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) -- by obtaining nutrients in exchange for carbon that is supplied to the fungus.

The project outcomes will serve as a foundation to achieve the long-term goals of determining how this ancient symbiosis modulates crop resistance against insects, which could potentially lead to the discovery of genes useful in developing insect-resistant crops.

By employing the symbiosis to modulate above-ground resistance in crops, AMF could be adopted as an environmental-friendly method to manage economically important pests in the field. This method has the potential to enhance resistance by "priming" plant defenses thereby leading to reduced applications of pesticides and phosphate fertilizers.


Grant Details

Patrick Burns and Susana "Karen" Gomez, assistant professors in UNC's School of Biological Sciences, received research funding from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture for these projects:

Title: "Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Bovine Luteal Cell Lipid Microdomains and PGF2a Signaling"
Project Director: Patrick Burns
Funding: $495,975 through Aug. 31, 2017
Faculty Web page: http://www.unco.edu/biology/faculty_staff/burns_patrick.htm

Title: "How do Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Affect Potato-Insect Interactions?"
Project Director: Susana "Karen" Gomez
Funding: $149,930 through Jan. 31, 2016
Faculty Web page: http://www.unco.edu/biology/faculty_staff/gomez_karen.html