Navigation Links
Campus as laboratory: U-M student biologists use Diag trees to help solve gypsy moth mystery
Date:1/30/2013

ANN ARBORWorking beneath the towering oaks and maples on the University of Michigan's central campus Diag, undergraduate researchers and their faculty adviser helped explain an observation that had puzzled insect ecologists who study voracious leaf-munching gypsy moth caterpillars.

The caterpillars, which defoliate and sometimes kill stands of trees in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast, are especially fond of oaks, but sugar maple trees appear to be relatively resistant to the European pest.

Biologists wondered whether the caterpillars shun sugar maples in part because their leaves are less nutritious than the leaves of other trees. To find out, U-M biochemist Ray Barbehenn and several of his undergraduate research assistants compared the protein quality of red oak and sugar maple leaves from trees on the Diag.

What they found runs counter to conventional wisdom on the topic, which states that protein quality in leaves differs significantly from species to species. Instead, Barbehenn and his students found that the amino acid composition of the proteins in red oak and sugar maple leaves is strikingly similarso similar, in fact, that they could not be distinguished during the spring, when gypsy moths do most of their feeding.

However, the researchers found that protein is more abundant in oak leaves than in maple leaves.

"Instead of differences in protein quality, we showed that maple trees have lower quantities of protein than oak, partly explaining why they are less nutritious than oak leaves," said Barbehenn, an associate research scientist in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. The amount of essential amino acids in oak leaves was 30-42 percent higher than the EAA content of maple leaves in the spring and summer.

"These results help us understand the nutritional reasons why insects perform better or worse on different species of plants. This kind of information is needed in agriculture and forestry to improve the resistance of plants to insect pests," he said. "In the short term, though, this is basic research that is driven by the curiosity of ecologists to understand nature better."

The team's findings will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Oecologia. Authors of the journal article are Barbehenn and two of his former undergraduate research assistants, Joseph Kochmanski and Julie Niewiadomski. Barbehenn has worked with more than 40 undergraduate research assistants since 2000.

Niewiadomski graduated from U-M with a bachelor's degree in biology in May 2010 and is now studying nutrition in a doctoral program at Cornell University. She said her work studying protein metabolism in gypsy moth caterpillars shaped her decision to pursue a doctorate in nutrition.

"My career in nutrition research began in Ray's lab," she said. "I am looking forward to seeing where it leads me."

Kochmanski is now a master's student at the U-M School of Public Health, focusing on toxicology. He said his time with Barbehenn instilled in him "a strong desire to continue doing research."

"I am currently working in a toxicology laboratory at the School of Public Health, doing research into the human health effects of environmental exposures," he said. "I can trace my interest in this subject back to my time working in Ray's lab."

"Our research involves a true partnership," Barbehenn said. "I teach students to work and think like biologists, and they help me get publication-quality data," he said. "For almost all of them, it's the first time they've had this opportunity and the first publication they've co-authored."

In the gypsy moth study, the students used a long-pole pruner to reach into the crowns of Diag oaks and maples and collect leaves. The field work was done in 2010, with permission from U-M Grounds Services.

In the nearby Natural Sciences Building, the research team used high-performance liquid chromatography to separate and quantify the amino acids that make up proteins. The whole-body essential amino acid composition of gypsy moth caterpillars was measured to estimate their optimum dietary protein composition, which was compared with the EAA compositions of oak and maple leaves.

"The ability to literally walk out the door to work on tree defenses against pests like the gypsy moth, coupled with an abundance of undergraduate talent, makes the U-M campus an ideal location for studies in insect chemical ecology," Barbehenn said.

The protein study showed that gypsy moths would have to devour more maple leaves than oak leaves to achieve the same amount of nourishment. But earlier work by Barbehenn and his students showed that the toxicity of maple leaves may prevent this strategy from working.

Studies conducted on the U-M campus between 2005 and 2009 showed that sugar maple leaves produce much higher levels and more types of toxic chemicals called tannins for their defense than do red oak leaves. Tannins and other toxic chemicals provide the major strategy that plants have evolved to defend themselves against attack by insects.


'/>"/>

Contact: Jim Erickson
ericksn@umich.edu
734-647-1842
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Spatial knowledge vs. spatial choice: The hippocampus as conflict detector?
2. UC Berkeley survey shows college campuses can make good bird havens
3. 5 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships awarded to UH students, alumna
4. College students work to sterilize air, kill pathogens on buses
5. New study published on fertility awareness among American university students
6. Rice students work on weighty problem for doctors
7. Undergraduate Student Summer Research Award recipients announced for the 2012 FASEB MARC summer research opportunity program
8. Wholly water -- students and scientists gather at NTU to discuss water problem
9. Grant to allow graduate students to research water quantity and quality improvement
10. UC Riverside graduate student awarded Guru Gobind Singh Fellowship
11. OpenStax Colleges free textbooks will save students $1 million this fall
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/23/2020)... , ... June 23, 2020 , ... ... is pleased to announce the next event in a series of TOPIQ webinars, ... The TOPIQ series of webinars was developed in response to social distancing measures ...
(Date:6/13/2020)... ... June 11, 2020 , ... Bode Technology (Bode), ... forensic genealogy team. Bode’s Forensic Genealogy Service (FGS) continues to deliver ... analysis methods. The team has added experienced genealogists, each having over a decade ...
(Date:6/5/2020)... ... , ... Greffex, a pioneering vaccine and gene therapy company based in Houston, ... need for a global perspective to make an impact in a post pandemic world,” ... as an independent, director of the company. , “The Greffex board is excited to ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/2/2020)... ... June 01, 2020 , ... As part of its ongoing ... the world, enterprise security solutions provider bitsIO donated time to help two companies ... during self-quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, companies are increasingly concerned about the security of ...
(Date:5/28/2020)... ... May 28, 2020 , ... Genedata, ... release of Genedata Screener ® 17.0, the latest version of its enterprise ... in-vitro screening assay technologies. Genedata will host a webinar on June 10, 2020, ...
(Date:5/21/2020)... ... 21, 2020 , ... Threats to intellectual property, political pressure ... to conventional wisdom that says the coronavirus pandemic will generally benefit biopharmaceutical companies, ... the pandemic commercially weaker, dealing with delays in new product launches and with ...
(Date:5/21/2020)... CITY, Calif. (PRWEB) , ... May 20, 2020 ... ... announce the addition of Simon Prakash, who will serve as the company’s executive ... joins at a time when Exo is disrupting the medical imaging space, bringing ...
Breaking Biology Technology: