The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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UMass Amherst Researchers Develop Technique to Replicate Bone Remodeling Processes

Subhead: Breakthrough could help researchers expand knowledge of bone biologyContact Name: Mary DettloffContact Email: mdettloff@umass.eduJanuary 20, 2021

AMHERST, Mass – A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) have developed a technique to replicate bone tissue complexity and bone remodeling processes. This breakthrough could help researchers further their study of bone biology and assist in improving development of drugs for osteoporosis.

Published in Science Advances today, the research team developed a new biomaterial they call demineralized bone paper. The team includes Jungwoo Lee, Yongkuk Park, Ryan Carpenter, chemical engineering; Eugene Cheong, biochemistry and microbiology; Jun-Goo Kwak, molecular and cellular biology graduate program; and Jae-Hyuck Shim of the UMass Medical School in Worcester.

The team developed a trabecular bone organoid model that reproduces essential extracellular complexity and cellular processes of trabecular bone cavities. Trabecular bone, or spongy bone, is a light, porous bone enclosing numerous large spaces that give a honeycombed or spongy appearance. Trabecular bones are the “shock absorbers” of the body, transferring mechanical loads from the articular surface to the cortical bone. These bones have a lower calcium content and more marrow content compared to cortical bone. Trabecular bone density decreases with aging.

“Bone is a multifunctional tissue not only maintaining mechanical stability, but also regulating blood-forming and blood mineral content,” said Lee. “However, investigating bone remodeling biology is challenging because this process occurs inside the bone cavity. Hard and opaque bone tissue is difficult to access, thus creating realistic bone tissue models outside of the body will advance our understanding of fundamental bone biology as well as provide new opportunities to model disease progression and screening drug responses.”

Bone remodeling is a lifelong process where mature bone tissue is removed from the skeleton and new bone tissue is formed. These processes also control the replacement of bone after an injury, but also the micro-damage occurs during normal daily activity. Bone development occurs in a layer-by-layer manner as first bone-forming cells deposit structural collagen that in turn mineralizes to become hard bone. This process is repeated to remodel and model bone tissue throughout life.

The UMass team took bovine bones from a local slaughterhouse, cleaned and cut them into small chunks that they demineralized in a chemical process. To reproduce the bone remodeling process, the team developed a novel biomaterial, demineralized bone paper, that mimics the dense structural matrix with thin sections of demineralized bovine compact bone. This material has a controlled thickness and surface area. It is mechanically durable and semitransparent as well.

The demineralized bone paper supports the processes of osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which are cells that exclusively reside and function on the bone surface. Osteoclasts are responsible for aged bone resorption and osteoblasts are responsible for new bone formation.

The bone paper serves as a functional template on which osteoblasts rapidly deposit structural minerals, guided by lamellar structure of the dense collagen, and form osteoid bone having a depth similar to that seen in a live organism. The material’s semitransparency makes it possible to monitor ongoing cellular processes with fluorescent microscopy, and it is thin but durable enough to be handled easily. Bone paper can be produced in large quantities – the team was able to produce more than 5,000 pieces from one bovine femur.

Yongkuk Park, the first author, says the trabecular bone model could be humanized for translational research by replacing bovine bones. Humanized trabecular bone models could improve the predictive power of pre-clinical studies and shorten the screening period for osteoporosis drugs. It could also help researchers facilitate the future study of numerous aspects of bone biology.

Lee’s research group in chemical engineering and IALS works to deliver enabling and translational platform technologies that can advance basic biomedical research, solve various medical problems, and ultimately improve patient care. It designs and manufactures a broad range of materials to construct standardized, functional human tissue models, and apply multi-dimensional imaging modalities to quantitatively capture complex, dynamic biological processes. The highly cross-disciplinary and collaborative working environment provides unique opportunities to group members at every stage to foster skill-sets and intellectual proficiency at the intersection of engineering and medicine.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Researchers Develop Technique to Replicate Bone Remodeling ProcessesNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Researchers Develop Technique to Replicate Bone Remodeling ProcessesTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) have developed a technique to replicate bone tissue complexity and bone remodeling processes. This breakthrough could help researchers further their study of bone biology and assist in improving development of drugs for osteoporosis.

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Scientists Explain a Jet Pointing the Wrong Way

Subhead: New evidence is observed by Daniel Wang using Chandra X-ray Observatory in spaceContact Name: Q. Daniel WangContact Email: wqd@umass.eduJanuary 15, 2021

AMHERST, Mass. – Scientists may have explained a phenomenon that seems to contradict the laws of physics. For the last decade or so, astronomers have been puzzled by the “weird behavior” of some jet-like X-ray features observed around bubbles of charged particles ejected from very fast-moving pulsars. These jets shoot out at super high speed into interstellar spaceat odd, unexpected angles, says Daniel Wang at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

He explains, “If you drive very fast, your hat should be blown backwards off your head, not sideways. These jets do not follow the interstellar backflows, they shoot out to the sides – a really weird phenomenon.”

Wang presented a paper with a new observation he made with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory this week at the virtual annual conference of the American Astronomical Society. He says his new evidence and analysis supports one particular theory of how such jets manifest their strange behavior.

Pulsars are rotating magnetized neutron stars that emit winds of charged particles intermixed with magnetic field at almost the speed of light, Wang explains. So, each pulsar blows a pulsar wind that forms a bubble of particles into the ambient interstellar medium. When a pulsar moves at very high speed, a supersonic shock forms on the front side of this bubble, forcing it to stretch backward – at least that is what one would expect, he adds.

But observations have shown that in some cases, highly energetic particles manage to shoot out from the sides of this shock bubble in streams of particles into the interstellar space. It is these strongly elongated streams that generate the weird X-ray jets that seem to ignore the basic laws of physics.

Wang’s group established the link of such an X-ray jet with a pulsar known as B2224+65 for the first time about 10 years ago, based on two observations made with the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2000 and 2006. These observations showed that both this “misaligned” jet and the pulsar move in a synchronized fashion. This was “a major surprise,” Wang recalls. Since then, similar jet-like features have been observed near several other fast-moving pulsars, but how these jet-like ejections form from pulsar wind remains unclear, he adds.

Now Wang has compared and analyzed all three Chandra observations of B2224+65. He shows that this pulsar also has a weak “counter-jet” and an even fainter and barely detected X-ray trail that actually coincides with the expected backflow of pulsar wind particles. Further, he tracked the change of the jet structures over time. Comparing these with recent theories and simulations, he discusses the implications of these results.

Wang says a theory that rests on energy-dependent confinement of particles by magnetic field seems to explain these jet phenomena well. “Magnetic field is everywhere, and it can guide particles like an invisible hand,” he adds. Imagining the pulsar wind bubble as a balloon, the magnetic tension confines the pulsar’s charged particles inside. But this confinement can be fragile and does not work well for high-energy particles, he adds.

Another property of magnetic field is that it is directional – “at some points in the bubble’s shock front, the interstellar and pulsar wind magnetic fields with opposing pole directions can meet and annihilate or cancel each other out”, Wang says. “It’s like sticking a pin in the balloon and producing holes that allow confined particles to burst out,” he explains. “The leaked particles are not totally free, though, and they stream mostly along interstellar magnetic field lines.”

He adds, “These observations are consistent with this leaking balloon picture, but the details still need to be worked out. It’s still uncertain how the leak appears to be sporadic and why the jets are so bright compared to the backflow.”

“Perhaps the leak can be unstable and fluctuate, as the bubble moves through the interstellar space,” he points out, and “There is also evidence for these leaked higher-energy particles to be accelerated when they collide with the interstellar magnetic field.”

“In short,” Wang writes, “magnetic field appears to play a central, though ‘invisible,’ role in determining the X-ray properties of the pulsar wind. It shows that the particle confinement is not perfect, and that a magnetic field accelerates particles to very high energies and enables them to radiate X-ray emission,” he says, adding that results seem to confirm this picture. More details of the work can be found in an article published in the Research Notes of the AAS  and were given in the AAS meeting (#436.01; Jan. 14, 2021, 4:10 PM - 4:20 PM).

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Scientists Explain a Jet Pointing the Wrong Way Newsletter Headline: Scientists Explain a Jet Pointing the Wrong Way Tag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Scientists may have explained a phenomenon that seems to contradict the laws of physics. For the last decade or so, astronomers have been puzzled by the “weird behavior” of some jet-like X-ray features observed around bubbles of charged particles ejected from very fast-moving pulsars. These jets shoot out at super high speed into interstellar spaceat odd, unexpected angles, says Daniel Wang at UMass.

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Preliminary Research Shows SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in New Moms’ Early Breastmilk

Subhead: UMass Amherst scientists are recruiting breastfeeding women for further studyContact Name: Kathleen ArcaroContact Email: karcaro@vasci.umass.eduJanuary 15, 2021

AMHERST, Mass. – Antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus were detected in colostrum, which is early breastmilk, from 14 of 15 women who had tested positive for COVID-19 before giving birth, according to preliminary findings from research led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst breast cancer researcher and a University of Massachusetts Medical School obstetrician-gynecologist.

As the team of UMass Amherst scientists continues related research, the early data on colostrum, the nutrient- and antibody-rich breastmilk produced in the first few days after childbirth, is available on medRxiv, the health sciences preprint server for research not yet peer-reviewed.

“Importantly this immune response was detected in colostrum of women who had their first positive test and symptoms more than four months before delivery, as well as those who had their first positive test at delivery and were asymptomatic,” writes lead author Vignesh Narayanaswamy, a UMass Amherst PhD candidate, in the preprint. He works in the breastmilk research lab of senior and corresponding author Kathleen Arcaro, professor of environmental toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences.

In addition to the presence of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies, the research also revealed increased levels of nine cytokines associated with a COVID-19 inflammatory response.

Breastfeeding by women infected with SARS-CoV-2 is endorsed by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and available evidence suggests breastmilk rarely contains live coronavirus and is not likely to spread the disease to babies.

The extent to which the COVID-19 antibodies found in colostrum provide immunity to babies is not yet clear, but a first important step was determining the presence of antibodies. “Breastmilk is super beneficial, we know that. Now we’ll be looking at the ability of these antibodies to neutralize the virus,” Arcaro says.

In her lab, Arcaro studies breastmilk to understand how hereditary BRCA breast cancer develops and how to prevent it. Like many scientists worldwide, Arcaro moved quickly to apply her research expertise to fight the pandemic, funded only with a small seed grant from UMass Amherst.

In the COVID-19 colostrum study, she partnered with Dr. Heidi Leftwich at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. The study participants hand-expressed colostrum samples from each breast onto spot cards on the day of, or the day after, giving birth. Within two more days, six of the participants also provided liquid bilateral colostrum samples in small containers. The controls for the study were colostrum samples collected from eight women between 2011-2013.

The analysis to detect antibodies specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus was conducted using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) developed in the lab of Dominique Alfandari, professor of developmental biology at UMass Amherst.

Arcaro has begun research on the breastmilk of 30 women from across the country, all of them healthcare professionals, who are providing breastmilk samples from before and after receiving the vaccine. “No one knows what the breastmilk response to the vaccine will be,” Arcaro says.

She also is still recruiting new moms nationwide who have a current infection, a positive COVID-19 test and are breastfeeding babies less than five months old. The women are sent a kit via Federal Express with everything they need to collect breastmilk samples on 12 days, which they freeze. The women provide a fresh sample on the final day, as well as a blood spot and an infant stool sample, and return the kit in a prepaid Federal Express box to Arcaro’s lab at UMass Amherst.

Breastfeeding women infected with the coronavirus who are interested in participating or learning more may email Arcaro at breastmilk@umass.edu.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Preliminary Research Shows SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in New Moms’ Early BreastmilkNewsletter Headline: Preliminary Research Shows SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in New Moms’ Early BreastmilkTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus were detected in colostrum, which is early breastmilk, from 14 of 15 women who had tested positive for COVID-19 before giving birth, according to preliminary findings from research led by a UMass breast cancer researcher and a UMass Medical School obstetrician-gynecologist.

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Research Breaks New Ground in Understanding How a Molecular Motor Generates Force

Subhead: UMass Amherst and Penn State scientists teamed up to study how myosin converts energy into work Contact Name: Ned DeboldContact Email: edebold@kin.umass.edu January 14, 2021

AMHERST, Mass. – A team of biophysicists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Penn State College of Medicine set out to tackle the long-standing question about the nature of force generation by myosin, the molecular motor responsible for muscle contraction and many other cellular processes. The key question they addressed – one of the most controversial topics in the field – was: how does myosin convert chemical energy, in the form of ATP, into mechanical work?

The answer revealed new details into how myosin, the engine of muscle and related motor proteins, transduces energy.

In the end, their unprecedented research, meticulously repeated with different controls and double-checked, supported their hypothesis that the mechanical events of a molecular motor precede – rather than follow – the biochemical events, directly challenging the long-held view that biochemical events gate the force-generating event. The work, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, was selected as an Editor’s Pick for “providing an exceptional contribution to the field.”

Completing complementary experiments to examine myosin at the most minute level, the scientists used a combination of technologies – single molecule laser trapping at UMass Amherst and FRET (fluorescence resonance energy transfer) at Penn State and the University of Minnesota. The team was led by muscle biophysicist Edward “Ned” Debold, associate professor in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences; biochemist Christopher Yengo, professor at Penn State College of Medicine; and muscle biophysicist David Thomas, professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota.

“This was the first time these two cutting-edge techniques have been combined together to study a molecular motor and answer an age-old question,” Debold says. “We’ve known for 50 years the broad scope of how things like muscle and molecular motors work, but we didn’t know the details of how that occurs at the most minute level, the nanoscale motions. It’s like we’re looking under the hood of a car and examining how the engine works. How does it take the fuel and convert it into work when you press the gas pedal?”

Using his single molecule laser trap assay in his lab, Debold and his team, including graduate students Brent Scott and Chris Marang, were able to directly observe the size and rate of myosin’s nanoscale mechanical motions as it interacted with a single actin filament, its molecular partner in force generation. They observed that the force-generating step, or powerstroke, happened extremely fast, almost as soon as it bound to the actin filament.

In parallel experiments using FRET assays, Yengo’s team confirmed this fast rate of the powerstroke and with additional studies demonstrated that the key biochemical steps happened subsequently and much more slowly. Further analysis revealed for the first time how these events might be coordinated by the intramolecular motions deep inside the myosin molecule.

“Chris Yengo collected his data separate from mine and we combined and integrated the results,” Debold says. “I could see things that he couldn’t, and he could see things that I couldn’t, and in combination we were able to reveal novel insights into how a molecular motor transduces energy. It was clear that the mechanics happened first followed by the biochemical events.”

Highlighting the importance of examining energy transduction at the nanoscale level has very broad implications, Debold explains. “It’s not just about how muscle works,” he says. “It is also a window into how many motor enzymes within our cells transduce energy, from those that drive muscle contraction to those that cause a cell to divide.”

Detailed knowledge about that process could help scientists one day develop treatments for such conditions as heart failure, cancer and more. “If you understand how the molecular motor works, you could use that information to improve function when it’s compromised, as in the case of heart failure,” Debold says. “Or if you wanted to prevent a tumor cell from dividing, you could use this information to prevent force-generation. Knowing exactly how force-generation occurs could be very useful for somebody trying to develop a drug to inhibit a molecular motor during cell division, and ultimately cancer.”

The researchers presented preliminary findings of their groundbreaking discovery last February at the 64th annual meetingof the Biophysical Society and will present a follow-up study next month at the 65th annual meeting, which is the largest gathering of biophysicists from around the world.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Research Breaks New Ground in Understanding How a Molecular Motor Generates ForceNewsletter Headline: Research Breaks New Ground in Understanding How a Molecular Motor Generates ForceTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A team of biophysicists from UMass and Penn State College of Medicine set out to tackle the long-standing question about the nature of force generation by myosin, the molecular motor responsible for muscle contraction and many other cellular processes. The key question they addressed – one of the most controversial topics in the field – was: how does myosin convert chemical energy, in the form of ATP, into mechanical work?

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Making Metabolomics Data More Useful in the Study of Health Risks

Subhead: NIH grant funds interdisciplinary team co-led by UMass Amherst biostatistician Contact Name: Raji BalasubramanianContact Email: rbalasub@schoolph.umass.eduJanuary 5, 2021

AMHERST, Mass. – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded University of Massachusetts Amherst biostatistician Raji Balasubramanian a four-year, $1.37 million grant to advance the analysis of data from metabolomics research. These studies examine at the molecular level the links between metabolic action and the risk of chronic health conditions, from heart disease and stroke to breast cancer and other complex disorders.

Balasubramanian, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, will co-lead an interdisciplinary team in the development and application of new statistical models to more effectively mine the expanding base of metabolomics data sources. The other lead investigator is Denise Scholtens, chief of biostatistics and director of the Northwestern University Data Analysis and Coordinating Center.

Metabolomics focuses on the study of the universe of small molecule metabolites involved in the body’s chemical reactions, as measured in blood, urine, saliva and other fluids.

“It provides a view of our biochemical state, aggregating the influences of genetic and environmental factors,” Balasubramanian explains. “Our small molecule metabolites are influenced not just by our genetic profile but also by what we eat, how much we exercise, the air we breathe and so on.”

In recent years, research into the metabolome has grown exponentially in population-based studies, and processing the voluminous data has created methodological challenges for researchers. Balasubramanian’s NIH grant will fund work to address those challenges.

The first goal, she says, is to come up with a statistical approach for variable selection specially suited to the characteristics of data generated in metabolomics studies. “We want to do this in a way that incorporates the fact that metabolites have dependence on each other and co-act in various known biological pathways,” Balasubramanian says.

Secondly, the researchers also will develop methods to identify differential networks of metabolites, where differing patterns of connectivity between exposure or phenotype groups can shed light on the underlying biology.

“In many studies, we view metabolites as mediating the relationship between an exposure and the outcome,” Balasubramanian says. “We want to develop models that can identify not just individual metabolites that act as mediators but networks of metabolites that can act as mediators.”

The network-based approaches for data analysis that Balasubramanian is working to develop will provide new tools that can be broadly applied in metabolomics studies of chronic disorders in human populations.

In her lab, Balasubramanian is currently conducting metabolomics research in collaboration with medical investigators from Harvard Medical School in other NIH-funded studies to understand the molecular underpinnings of common conditions, including stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as cardiovascular disease, stroke, breast cancer and kidney disease.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Making Metabolomics Data More Useful in the Study of Health RisksNewsletter Headline: Making Metabolomics Data More Useful in the Study of Health RisksTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded UMass biostatistician Raji Balasubramaniana four-year, $1.37 million grant to advance the analysis of data from metabolomics research. These studies examine at the molecular level the links between metabolic action and the risk of chronic health conditions, from heart disease and stroke to breast cancer and other complex disorders.

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Danylchuk Lab Joins White Shark Research Group

December 21, 2020

UMass Amherst fisheries biologist Andy Danylchuk, environmental conservation, and his Ph.D. student Bryan Legare recently joined other shark research groups and government agencies from the northeastern United States and Canada in the New England White Shark Research Consortium (NEWSRC). It provides the first-ever collaboration to jointly study the white shark (Carchardon carcharias) throughout its entire northeast range.

With increased white shark sightings from Rhode Island to Canada, NEWSRC says, “this is the perfect time to create a unique consortium to increase our understanding of white shark life history, including their migration, residency, habitat use, reproduction and predatory behavior – factors that drive human-shark interactions, and broader perceptions of white sharks by coastal communities.”

Danylchuk and Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries are co-advisors to Legare in his doctoral work. The three will collaborate with the Provincetown-based Center for Coastal Studies to study the near-shore movements of white sharks off Cape Cod. Specifically, they are using fine-scale acoustic telemetry to determine what environmental conditions bring white sharks close to beaches where human-shark encounters can occur. 

Danylchuk says, “White sharks, and sharks in general, are pretty cool but they scare the heck out of people. Sure, they have lots of teeth and strong jaws, but the probability of getting attacked by a white shark is so much less than getting into a car accident or falling down a flight of stairs.  With the increased sightings in New England waters, the partners of the newly formed NEWSRC will work together to understand the movement patterns of white sharks and how coastal communities can live in harmony with these important apex predators.”

He adds, “The NEWSRC will provide the foundation for an evidence-based approach for management and education campaigns related to increasing human safety while also embracing the ecological value white sharks have to marine food webs.”

Danylchuk, Skomal and Legare will join an effort of what NEWSRC calls “unparalleled in scope and methodology, maintaining hundreds of acoustic receivers throughout the northeast to detect white shark movements from Rhode Island to Canada. It will conduct research on multiple life stages using a variety of tagging technologies, such as acoustic transmitters, data loggers, and satellite-linked tags, as well as conventional tagging and tissue analysis.”

Further, “Using the collective knowledge and resources of the group, the consortium will not only advance the current knowledge of the species, but also enhance public education and safety within this region. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the white shark is on the IUCN’s Red List and the population is considered Vulnerable, which makes this research that much more important,” organizers point out.

In addition to UMass Amherst and the Commonwealth’s Division of Marine Fisheries, members of the consortium include scientists and researchers from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Center for Coastal Studies, the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources,UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, the New England Aquarium, Arizona State University, the Atlantic Shark Institute, the NOAA Fisheries Apex Predators Programand Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Danylchuk Lab Joins White Shark Research GroupNewsletter Headline: Danylchuk Lab Joins White Shark Research GroupTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Fisheries biologist Andy Danylchuk, environmental conservation, and his Ph.D. student Bryan Legare recently joined other shark research groups and government agencies from the northeastern United States and Canada in the New England White Shark Research Consortium.

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Two VASCI Faculty Receive Major NIH Grants from its Knockout Mouse Project

December 21, 2020

UMass Amherst veterinary and animal science researchers Kim Tremblay and Jesse Mager, a wife-and-husband team nationally known for expertise in embryonic development, have each received five-year awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study distinct stages of embryo development in mice that have had essential genes knocked out. They will collaborate with Wei Cui, director of the Animal Models Core at the campus’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences.

Specifically, Mager and Tremblay, who are co-investigators on each other’s grants, have chosen to investigate a large number of lethal genes whose function is not well understood or not studied at all. These knock-out animals are produced by the Knockout Mouse Project (KOMP), part of the international mouse phenotyping consortium (IMPC), a global effort to identify the function of every protein-coding gene in the mouse genome. The genes that Mager and Tremblay study are those that, when knocked out – removed from the mouse genome – the embryo fails to develop and dies early on.

Mager says, “We chose to study things that nobody else has, because the idea and goal of the project is not to re-do the effort but to contribute to this library of knowledge on what each and every gene does.” Mager will receive $3.1 million for his research and Tremblay will receive $2.1 million for her studies of the KOMP gene’s role in embryonic organ formation.

Mager says there is “a high correlation” between mouse and human genes. “We share every gene with the mouse, so learning about their biological function in mice will inform scientists about the underpinnings of human disease. Even though we have 30,000 genes in our genome, only about 5,000 have been studied by anyone; there are thousands that we know nothing about. This project is intended to look at genes that haven’t been studied at all in mammals.”

Tremblay adds, “Once you begin to understand the function of a new gene, you can begin to understand how those genes influence all kinds of diseases in the adult animal. We could potentially start studying those and come up with new drug therapies for human diseases.” The researchers point out that 60 to 70% of what are known as “essential genes” have diseases associated with the human version of that gene.

“We will learn a lot about basic function of these genes” over the years of planned experiments, Mager says. He points out that human diseases are due not to a totally knocked out gene, but to subtle gene changes that often lead to diminished function rather than no function.

The two each focus on different stages of an embryo’s development in the first 10 or 11 days, with Mager specializing in the very early stages, conception to about three days, and then days five, six and seven, “when the first critical decisions that an embryo makes take place.” The period correlates roughly to the first trimester of a human pregnancy, he notes.

Tremblay’s organogenesis and placentation research focuses on stages that follow, from about day eight to 10 or 11, she says, a period roughly equivalent to the end of the first and beginning of the second trimester of a human pregnancy. She notes, “Both of our expertise in these stages is part of the benefit to NIH. We are both are experts in what normal looks like and when things are not right.” The pair will use microscopy, dissection and immunohistology techniques to examine whether development is unfolding correctly in embryonic tissues. “At each stage, embryonic cells make critical and specific choices about what they should become, and we have methods to assess these decisions” Tremblay says.

Specifically related to her career work in liver organogenesis, Tremblay also hopes to identify genes that are involved in liver and gut development and function that first appear in differentiation of the placenta. She says, “I have to admit, we are both embryo geeks. Every time I open an embryo, I feel like I’m opening a present. There is something cool inside.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Two VASCI Faculty Receive Major NIH Grants from its Knockout Mouse ProjectNewsletter Headline: Two VASCI Faculty Receive Major NIH Grants from its Knockout Mouse ProjectTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Veterinary and animal science researchers Kim Tremblay and Jesse Mager, a wife-and-husband team nationally known for expertise in embryonic development, have each received five-year awards from the National Institutes of Health to study distinct stages of embryo development in mice that have had essential genes knocked out. 

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Study Co-Authored by UMass Epidemiologists Cited as ‘Women’s Health Issues’ Editor’s Choice

Subhead: Hispanic women with high levels of stress and anxiety gain less weight during pregnancy, study findsDecember 18, 2020

Gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy is associated with poor maternal and infant outcomes, but too little research has examined factors affecting gestational weight gain (GWG) in Hispanic women. A new study co-authored by UMass Amherst faculty, which was selected as the Editor’s Choice for the November/December issue of Women’s Health Issues, reports that in a group of predominantly Puerto Rican women, those with the highest levels of stress and anxiety gained less weight during pregnancy than those with the lowest levels.

Epidemiology alumna and former postdoctoral researcher Megan W. Harvey ‘16 Ph.D., now an assistant professor of health sciences at Springfield College, and colleagues including UMass Amherst professor and chair of biostatistics and epidemiology Lisa Chasan-Taber and department faculty members Penelope Pekow and Karen Ertel, used data from the prospective cohort study Proyecto Buena Salud to examine the relationship between stress, anxiety and gestational weight gain. Led by Chasan-Taber, Proyecto Buena Salud enrolled pregnant women with Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry who sought prenatal care in Western Massachusetts. The authors categorized the 1,308 participants into quartiles based on their perceived stress and anxiety scores and found that those with the highest scores in early pregnancy gained 4-5 pounds less during pregnancy than those with the lowest scores. Those with high levels of stress and anxiety in mid/late pregnancy gained 3-4 pounds less.

“These findings provide additional support for conclusions that, for women experiencing chronically high levels of chronic stress and anxiety, the additional stress of pregnancy may lead to diet disturbances and undereating,” Harvey and her colleagues write. “Future research should focus on culturally specific interventions to reduce high levels of stress and anxiety, and should evaluate if changes in GWG associated with stress or anxiety impact subsequent birth outcomes.”

“Given existing research documenting high levels of stress and anxiety in pregnant Hispanic people, it’s important to study the health effects,” said Amita Vyas, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. “These findings make an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between mental health and gestational weight gain and can help drive interventions for healthier pregnancies.”

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the department of health policy and management at Milken Institute SPH.

Stress and Anxiety are Associated with Lower Gestational Weight Gain in Hispanic WomenThumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Study Co-Authored by UMass Epidemiologists Cited as ‘Women’s Health Issues’ Editor’s ChoiceNewsletter Headline: Study Co-Authored by UMass Epidemiologists Cited as ‘Women’s Health Issues’ Editor’s ChoiceTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

The new study, co-authored by UMass Amherst faculty, reports that in a group of predominantly Puerto Rican women, those with the highest levels of stress and anxiety gained less weight during pregnancy than those with the lowest levels.

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New Study Finds More than Half of Hudson River Tidal Marshes were Created Accidentally by Humans; Resilient Against Sea Level Rise

Subhead: UMass Amherst geologist and team studied marshes from Wall Street to AlbanyContact Name: Brian YellenContact Email: byellen@umass.eduDecember 18, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In a new study of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise, geologist and first author Brian Yellen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and colleagues observed that Hudson River Estuary marshes are growing upward at a rate two to three times faster than sea level rise, “suggesting that they should be resilient to accelerated sea level rise in the future,” he says.

Writing in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Yellen and colleagues documented that more than half of Hudson River tidal marshes formed since 1850. That year, the channel was straightened and a riverside railroad, berms, jetties and human-made islands of dredged soil were built. This all trapped sediment and created backwaters that often – but not always – turned into marshes, an “unintended result of early industrial development,” they state.

“In one case, historical aerial photos document this transition occurring in less than 18 years, offering a timeframe for marsh development,” they point out. Yellen’s co-authors are colleagues Jonathan Woodruff, Caroline Ladlow and undergraduate Waverly Lau at UMass Amherst, plus Sarah Fernald at New York’s department of environmental conservation and David K. Ralston of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Yellen notes that for this “very collaborative” study, the researchers took advantage of “an experiment that has already happened over decades or centuries. Many of these accidental tidal marshes worked; they protect the shoreline and provide one of the richest ecosystems in terms of direct ecological and human benefits.”

Further, marshes are “really useful,” he adds – as a first line of defense against coastal flooding, essential habitat for juvenile commercial fish species, they store huge amounts of carbon that mitigates climate change, they provide habitat for migratory birds, filter nutrients coming off the land “and they’re beautiful.”

Yellen and colleagues write that these tidal wetlands “currently trap roughly 6% of the Hudson River’s sediment load. Results indicate that when sediment is readily available, freshwater tidal wetlands can develop relatively rapidly in sheltered settings. The study sites serve as useful examples to help guide future tidal marsh creation and restoration efforts.”

Their research involved seven sites spanning more than 100 miles of the Hudson Estuary, “from Wall Street up to Albany,” Yellen says. The bays where tidal marshes developed started out six to seven feet deep and have steadily grown vertically. “One concern for marshes globally is that they will be drowned by rising sea level, but this case study shows how marshes can be created and it gave us some timing benchmarks for what is considered a tricky ecosystem restoration,” he adds.

The researchers used two main methods to investigate the river’s history and resilience in the face of sea level rise – sediment cores that shed light on how fast sediment accumulated and historical maps, charts and aerial photos to determine how the sites have changed over time.

Yellen summarizes, “As long as there is space for sediment to accumulate, new marshes can develop. There is a community of land trusts up and down the river who are planning now for future sea level rise and considering where new marshes can form. This research will help them and state agencies guide land acquisition and land conservation strategies adjacent to the river to 2100 and beyond.”

The research, part of the Dams and Sediment in the Hudson (DaSH) project, was supported by a grant to Ralston from NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve Collaborative, plus the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Interior Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center at UMass Amherst.

Also, Lau received a Polgar Fellowship from the Hudson River Foundation for her senior thesis project. She took the lead on one of the sites and made a short film about tidal marshes around the world and the Hudson River marsh near her home in Queens.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: New Study Finds More than Half of Hudson River Tidal Marshes were Created Accidentally by Humans; Resilient Against Sea Level RiseNewsletter Headline: New Study Finds More than Half of Hudson River Tidal Marshes were Created Accidentally by Humans; Resilient Against Sea Level RiseTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

In a new study of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise, geologist and first author Brian Yellen at UMass and colleagues observed that Hudson River Estuary marshes are growing upward at a rate two to three times sea level rise, “suggesting that they should be resilient to accelerated sea level rise in the future,” he says.

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New Report Says EPA Used Dubious Methodology to Justify Weakening the Clean Water Act

Subhead: Report co-authored by UMass Amherst economist David Keiser says EPA analysis assumes states will step in to protect waterways as wetlands and streams lose federal protectionContact Name: David KeiserContact Email: dkeiser@umass.eduDecember 17, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – The Trump administration’s decision to remove federal Clean Water Act protections from millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams is based on dubious methodology and flawed logic, according to a new report by environmental economists from leading research institutions across the U.S, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers repealed the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which clarified which bodies of water fell under federal protection from pollution under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Earlier this year, the agencies replaced that rule with the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removes isolated wetlands and ephemeral and intermittent streams from federal pollution protection.

“The EPA’s decision to make major changes to the rules protecting the nation’s waterways relies on economic analysis that may underestimate the benefits of streams and wetlands, especially as they affect waters downstream,” said David Keiser, associate professor of resource economics at UMass Amherst and co-author of the Report on the Repeal of the Clean Water Rule and its Replacement with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to Define Waters of the United States. “The EPA also failed to adhere to its own guidelines. The new rule includes many contradictions that are inconsistent with the best available science,” Keiser said.

The rule change makes it much easier for developers, agricultural operations, oil and gas companies and mining companies to dredge, fill, divert and dump pollution into ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands. The researchers report that ripple effects could include worsening water pollution, loss of habitat for birds, fish and other species, diminished recreational waterways, more frequent algal blooms and increased flood damage to communities as wetlands disappear.

According to a 2017 staff analysis by the EPA and the Army Corps, the new rule leaves over half of U.S. wetlands and 18% of U.S. streams unprotected, including 35% of streams in the arid West.

The researchers say that while developing the rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers considered water quality as only a “local public good.” This ignores extensive scientific research that shows that even ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands are connected to larger watersheds, so what happens upstream affects waterways downstream, increasing the risk of flooding, diminishing water quality, and causing other problems that don’t stop at state borders. The report, published by the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC), finds that this artificially narrow view skewed benefit-cost analyses in a way that favored removing regulations.

The agencies also relied on some questionable assumptions, the authors say. For example, EPA projections of nationwide benefits assumed that every state — from arid places like Nevada or Arizona to wetland-rich states like Florida — has the same baseline number of wetland acres. Additionally, the agencies based their benefit-cost analyses on the assumption that leaving streams and wetlands unprotected won’t cause any harm to water quality in many states, because those states will rush in to protect waterways as needed.

“Experience shows that’s just not credible,” said Sheila Olmstead of the University of Texas at Austin, a report co-author. “We have a real-world apples-to-apples comparison to look at: When the Supreme Court removed federal protection from many U.S. wetlands by overturning the Migratory Bird Rule in 2001, only a few states moved to expand their own jurisdiction over some of the affected waters over the next 20 years. Given this prior behavior, EPA’s prediction that dozens of states will move to protect wetlands and streams this time around seems highly unlikely. In addition, assuming that many states will enact new legislation that doesn’t currently exist violates EPA’s own Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analysis.”

“Environmental federalism” – the theory that states do a better job at environmental regulation than the national government – can work in some situations, but is not supported in this case, the report’s authors say. President-elect Joe Biden has said his administration will review the Trump administration’s decision to remove Clean Water Act protection from wetlands and intermittent streams. But reversing that decision could be messy – at least a dozen court cases have been filed so far, and defining the protected waters of the United States has been the subject of debate for decades.

“The Biden Administration will attempt to respond to a number of EPA rule rollbacks undertaken by the Trump Administration. This report points to how a Biden Administration can correct structural weaknesses in this rule as well as other important EPA policies,” said J.R. DeShazo, who directs UCLA’s Luskin Center of Innovation and is a founding co-chair of the E-EEAC, an independent organization committed to providing the best available economic advice to the EPA.

In addition to Keiser and Olmstead, co-authors include Kevin Boyle of Virginia Tech, Victor Flatt of the University of Houston, Bonnie Keeler of the University of Minnesota, Daniel Phaneuf of the University of Wisconsin, Joseph S. Shapiro of the University of California Berkeley and Jay Shimshack of the University of Virginia.

The complete report, along with graphics and a fact sheet, is available online via the E-EEAC.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: New Report Says EPA Used Dubious Methodology to Justify Weakening the Clean Water ActNewsletter Headline: New Report Says EPA Used Dubious Methodology to Justify Weakening the Clean Water ActTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

The Trump administration’s decision to remove federal Clean Water Act protections from millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams is based on dubious methodology and flawed logic, according to a new report by environmental economists from leading research institutions across the U.S, including UMass.

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Robotic Fish Built by UMass Researcher Mimics Fast Acceleration of Live Fish

Subhead: Modeled after the Northern pike, the robot is made of 3D-printed plastic components and mimics the fast-start response of live fishContact Name: Prof. Yahya Modarres-SadeghiContact Email: modarres@engin.umass.eduDecember 15, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – A robotic fish designed and built at a research lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst can accelerate up to 20g, an acceleration comparable to the fastest live fish that has been measured so far. No other robotic fish has achieved such acceleration. The research was recently published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

“The very large acceleration that some species of fishes can achieve during their escape maneuver has long fascinated the researchers,” said Yahya Modarres-Sadeghi, professor of mechanical engineering. “We asked ourselves, could we make a robot that is as fast as the fastest live fishes?”

The bio-inspired robotic fish designed and built by Modarres-Sadeghi and his Ph.D. student Todd Currier is made mostly of 3D-printed plastic components using a Northern pike as a model. The plastic components reduced weight and improved acceleration performance. The robotic fish is designed to use the snap-through buckling of its spine to generate and mimic the fast-start response of a startled live fish. Many fishes use such a maneuver to avoid predators or to capture prey.

The robotic fish is actuated using a piston and cable assembly. The cable links the tail to the piston that is placed in the head, forcing the net displacement of the tail to the stroke of the piston. A series of ribs are constrained to the spine, and guide the cable and support the skin along the length of the body. To make the fast maneuver, the robotic fish bends its spine to a “C-shape,” similar to a live fish that goes through a fast-start maneuver. Then it changes the direction of rotation of its head, bringing its spine to an unstable “S-shape,” from where the robotic fish goes through a snap-through buckling, which imposes a traveling wave along the length of the fish, creating a body form very similar to what has been observed in live fishes undergoing the fast-start.

To test how the robotic fish can co-exist with its live counterparts, the researchers took it to a shallow, swift river to test it. In the river, the fish, though not designed to swim straight, was able to swim against a swift current by performing repeated fast-start maneuvers. It was also able to approach live fish and stay close to them until it performed a fast-start, which, as expected, scared the live fish.

The members of this research team believe that the design of the robotic fish could eventually help researchers explore the fauna of unexplored areas of the ocean. Current exploration tools typically generate light and noise that can startle live fish and animals and influence their behavior. Additionally, many of the regions of unexplored ocean are inhospitable to humans and require the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which are unmanned. AUVs are inorganic and do not integrate into the marine environment. The intrusive vehicles often startle marine life making observation difficult. Robots that emulate the motion of the fishes are more likely to co-exist with their live counterparts.

YouTube video of the Robotic Fish in action.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Robotic Fish Built by UMass Researcher Mimics Fast Acceleration of Live FishNewsletter Headline: Robotic Fish Built by UMass Researcher Mimics Fast Acceleration of Live FishTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A robotic fish designed and built at a research lab at UMass can accelerate up to 20g, an acceleration comparable to the fastest live fish that has been measured so far. No other robotic fish has achieved such acceleration. The research was recently published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

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Farming Changes, Massachusetts Embraces Reclaimed Cranberry Bogs

Subhead: UMass Amherst researchers celebrate years of restoration and a green exit strategy for farmers Contact Name: Christine HatchContact Email: chatch@geo.umass.eduDecember 15, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – As the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration’s Cranberry Bog Program released its report this month recounting a decade of restoring former cranberry bogs to wetlands, project research hydrogeologist Christine Hatch and her University of Massachusetts Amherst students are poised to continue collecting data and monitoring the “re-wilded” ecosystems’ progress for years to come.

The report was prepared by the Living Observatory, a public interest learning community founded in 2011 to communicate to the public as stages of stream and wetland restoration were completed at a former family-owned cranberry bog, Tidmarsh Farms. It is the largest freshwater ecological restoration ever completed in the Northeast, according to project partner MassAudubon, which created Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary from the eastern part of the 600-acre farm.

Restoration of the western section of the property, now owned by the Town of Plymouth and known as “Foothills Preserve,” is expected to be complete in January, Hatch points out. “The whole process of transforming Foothills back into a wetland has taken a full calendar year.”

She adds, “Wetlands don’t form by accident, they form in the presence of very specific geologic constraints. We are exploring techniques and best practices to identify what works in order to turn cranberry bogs back into wetlands. It’s very exciting to see the transformation.”

Hatch and her students spent the field season just ended – and several before that – locating cold, fresh groundwater and installing water and temperature sensors as four project bogs were reclaimed. The sensors will feed data to Hatch and other scientists who continue research on soil moisture, hydrology, geology and the interaction of surface and groundwater, among other things. One goal is to develop a set of best practices for site evaluation and restoration for future projects, she says.

Restoration leaders have taken results from Hatch and other researchers including fellow UMass Amherst hydrogeologist David Boutt plus researchers at Mount Holyoke College, UMass Boston, Bridgewater State, MIT and Woodwell Climate Research Center, among others. They study soil microbes, vegetation, water chemistry, wetland soil formation and function, invertebrates, wildlife and more. Results provide “a complete vision of the landscape transformations that can occur in these systems,” Hatch points out.

As the Living Observatory explains, “The findings, many of which are described here for the first time, will help shape future projects. The report concludes with a proposal for a standard monitoring approach for new restoration sites, as well as topics for further research.” The state and its partners hope to eventually restore 900 acres of wetland and to permanently protect 1,800 acres.

Hatch says, “Wetlands are slow – they sit around and accumulate organic muck, which takes time. They have rough terrain with micro-topography – hummocks with their own micro-climates that the cranberry growers had flattened and taken away. It is a complicated process to restore those ecozones.” For example, cranberry growers used a system of berms and ditches dug into the peat where they could float berries at harvest time, and they applied sand to control pests and anchor the plants.

“Bulldozers with balloon tires start at one end and work their way across the site, undoing over a century of human land use. These interventions give the area a ‘jump start’ of about a hundred years toward recovery by filling ditches, making stream channels longer and more complex, and adding hummocks back in,” Hatch says.

“Foothills already has the right mix of soils, and we expect the long-dormant wetland plant seeds to come bursting back to life in the spring, followed by reptiles, amphibians and birds – the whole community.”

What’s exciting right now for me and my students is creating experimental microtopography to test how water moves through these sites and cataloging what creatures and plants have returned,” she adds. “We have some initial observations that these techniques work, but this will be the first formal, large-scale controlled experiment with observations before and after, as well as above and below the ground over time.”

In addition to UMass Amherst and the state’s ecological restoration division, contributing researchers came from dozens of other institutions, volunteers, conservation organizations and state and federal agencies including the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, the Gulf of Maine Council on Marine Environment, the Manomet Center for Conservation Science, The Nature Conservancy, MassWildlife and Ducks Unlimited.

 

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Farming Changes, Massachusetts Embraces Reclaimed Cranberry Bogs Newsletter Headline: Farming Changes, Massachusetts Embraces Reclaimed Cranberry Bogs Tag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

As the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration’s Cranberry Bog Program released its report this month recounting a decade of restoring former cranberry bogs to wetlands, project research hydrogeologist Christine Hatch and her UMass students are poised to continue collecting data and monitoring the “re-wilded” ecosystems’ progress for years to come.

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Viral Encounters: Lessons on COVID, Coping and Community from Chinese Migrants in Italy

Subhead: UMass Amherst anthropologist Elizabeth Krause finds the “threat of xenophobia, a preparedness to quarantine, and the will of solidarity motivated an entire migrant community to take action” during the pandemicContact Name: Elizabeth KrauseContact Email: ekrause@umass.eduDecember 14, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – As COVID-19 ravaged Italy during the early days of the pandemic politicians, public health officials and journalists feared that the northern city of Prato would be the most dangerous place in Italy due to its concentration of Chinese migrants who power the city’s “Made in Italy” fast-fashion garment industry. New research from University of Massachusetts Amherst anthropologist Elizabeth Krause has instead found that Prato emerged as a contagion exception as related to its Chinese migrant community, in part because of “viral encounters” – the social narratives, representations and practices involved in coping with threats of transmission and practices of prevention.

By combining virtual ethnography with health data, as well as evidence of xenophobia and solidarity, Krause, a professor of anthropology at UMass Amherst who has been doing research in Prato since 1995, and her co-author Massimo Bressan, president of the IRIS research institute in Prato, document a widespread shift in dominant attitudes toward the Chinese migrants by native Italians from one of xenophobia to one of respect. In an analysis published in a special issue of the journal Human Organization, they trace how solidarity efforts – including gifts of masks, protective gear and respiratory machines from the Chinese community – emerged spontaneously, and their research, they write, suggests that such practices have not only conditioned political and administrative actions during the pandemic, but also improved them.

Faced with travel prohibitions, Krause’s research was conducted through collaboration via Zoom meetings while Bressan, in lockdown in Prato, was able to witness the ways in which Italian society was reacting to the pandemic. Together they set out to follow and document the COVID response at various levels, including social networks, representations via popular culture and social media, political forums via Facebook, news coverage and public health data, while drawing upon ethnographic data collected during a multi-year collaboration between Krause and Bressan.

“In our tracing and tracking of encounters related to the virus and, specifically, to Chinese migrants in Italy, we began to notice a pattern in the production of social meanings,” Krause and Bressan write. “Initially, the forms of cultural production played on taken-for-granted assumptions about Chinese migrants. Cultural products took on the air of blame and contagion. The common sense narrative went something like this: the virus started in China, many Chinese migrants travel back and forth between China and northern Italy, and therefore the spread of the virus to Europe must have come from Chinese people. Xenophobia spread like a mutated virus.

“Before long, however, xenophobia withered in the face of solidarity that took the form of proactive and rigid self-imposed quarantine practices,” they write. By taking such protective measures, including voluntarily closing their workshops to prevent potential outbreaks, the researchers report that Chinese migrants in Prato have in fact not had the novel coronavirus, and at the pandemic’s height the health agency that traces healthcare in the region documented only a single COVID-19 case in the entire greater metropolitan area of central Tuscany.

In addition to the collective effort by the migrant community to maintain quarantine, one of the first members of the COVID-19 help team to reach Prato was reportedly from China’s Sichuan Province, where in 2008 an Italian rescue team was the first from Western countries to provide resources and medical support following the Wenchuan earthquake, and some of the Prato workshops ultimately converted their operations to the manufacturing of masks, many of which were distributed throughout the Prato community.

“The Chinese migrants prioritized health and well-being over business and money,” Krause and Bressan write. “Their collective action of a triple quarantine as a means to prevent the spread of the virus represented a gift to the community at large.”

Krause and Bressan argue that the effects of what they discovered “reconfigures dominant ideologies of individualism, open space for collective orientation toward a human economy, and offer potential to alleviate detrimental impacts of pandemics.”

“Not spreading COVID stands as the ultimate gift of solidarity,” they write. “Time will tell to what degree the withering away of xenophobia will endure as a form of reciprocity.”

The article, “Viral Encounters: Xenophobia, Solidarity, and Place-based Lessons from Chinese Migrants in Italy,” is available online now.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Viral Encounters: Lessons on COVID, Coping and Community from Chinese Migrants in ItalyNewsletter Headline: Viral Encounters: Lessons on COVID, Coping and Community from Chinese Migrants in ItalyTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

As COVID-19 ravaged Italy during the early days of the pandemic politicians, public health officials and journalists feared that the northern city of Prato would be the most dangerous place in Italy due to its concentration of Chinese migrants who power the city’s “Made in Italy” fast-fashion garment industry. New research from UMass anthropologist Elizabeth Krause has instead found that Prato emerged as a contagion exception as related to its Chinese migrant community, in part because of “viral encounters” – the social narratives, representations and practices involved in coping with threats of transmission and practices of prevention.

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Jill Fitzsimmons Will Help to Assess Impact of Dual-use Solar-agriculture Installations

December 11, 2020

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technology Office announced recently that a team led by extension professor Dwayne Breger at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been selected for a three-year, $1.8 million award to study the effects of co-locating solar energy panels and agriculture operations at up to eight different farms across the Commonwealth.

The work will be in partnership with landowners, state agencies, solar developers, and a non-profit farmland organization. As part of the team, Jill Fitzsimmons, assistant research professor of resource economics, will measure changes in economic welfare from dual-use solar to answer such questions as costs and benefits to society from dual-use solar, and whatpolicymakers and solar developers need to be thinking about when they consider the true costs of implementing dual use.

Her research will evaluate three factors – effects of dual-use systems on farm profitability, agricultural economies and public welfare in Massachusetts and nationally. Fitzsimmons will collect farm costs and revenue data from on-site dual-use solar panel trials to estimate trade-offs between agricultural yields and energy production, compared to production costs and revenue changes from dual-use. One goal is to identify whether and how installing dual-use solar panels affects the farm business.

Fitzsimmons will also estimate different farm-sector impacts of increased dual-use solar, asking how the state, regional and national agricultural sectors be affected by shifting agricultural land into dual-use agricultural and energy production. Finally, she will conduct a national choice experiment to estimate public acceptance of dual-use solar.

“This is a really exciting project,” Fitzsimmons says. “Massachusetts is on the cutting edge of dual-use solar implementation. We have an opportunity to answer real, practical, immediate questions that agricultural producers and the solar industry need today, and at the same time extend our findings to think about how innovations in the Commonwealth can apply to the nation.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Jill Fitzsimmons Will Help to Assess Impact of Dual-use Solar-agriculture InstallationsNewsletter Headline: Jill Fitzsimmons Will Help to Assess Impact of Dual-use Solar-agriculture InstallationsTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology Office announced recently that a team led by extension professor Dwayne Breger has been selected for a three-year, $1.8 million award to study the effects of co-locating solar energy panels and agriculture operations at up to eight different farms across the Commonwealth.

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Your Responsibilities Related to Compliance with Export Control Laws and Regulations

December 10, 2020

The Office of the Chancellor addressed researchers’  responsibilities related to compliance with export control laws and regulations in an email to the campus community earlier this week.

That email is as follows:

To the Campus Community:

The Office of Research Compliance (ORC) maintains and implements UMass Amherst's policies and procedures regarding U.S. export controls under the direction of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, who serves as the campus Empowered Official for purposes of those regulations. This memo reintroduces campus export control policies and procedures and provides basic information about export controls and resources available to help comply with them.

Export controls are U.S. laws and regulations that restrict the release of certain technologies, information, and services to foreign nationals, within and outside of the United States, and foreign countries for reasons of foreign policy and national security. These laws and regulations, which include international sanctions programs, also restrict activities within certain countries and with designated institutions, entities, and individuals, even if no controlled items are involved. Export controls, given their purpose, are subject to frequent additions and amendments responsive to rapidly-changing international affairs.

The term “export” is defined broadly within U.S. export controls and includes, but is not limited to, releasing identified items and information to foreign nationals within the U.S. UMass Amherst’s Export Control Compliance Program Guidelines, training materials, resources, and guidance on the laws and regulations are available on the ORC export controls website.

It is the responsibility of all campus community members to be familiar with and adhere to the requirements of export control regulations. Individuals and institutions that violate federal regulations governing export-controlled activities may be subject to civil and criminal penalties that can include significant fines, jail terms, denial of export or research privileges, and debarment from government contracting.

Because of the broad scope of export-controlled items, which include, but are not limited to, equipment, software code, chemical and biological materials, and technical data, these laws and regulations apply to virtually all fields of science and engineering and restrict both physical shipments and electronic transmission of information. Further, country-specific sanctions programs and party-based restrictions apply regardless of research subject matter. Export control laws apply to all activities – not just sponsored research projects.

University of Massachusetts policy requires compliance with all U.S. export control laws and regulations, which apply to both researchers individually and their institutions. Therefore, all faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates involved in export-controlled research are required to have training before beginning those projects. Further, it is strongly suggested that all community members involved in sponsored or international research take advantage of two export control training modules available through the CITI program:

  • Export Compliance for Researchers: Part I, and
  • Export Compliance and United States Sanctions Programs

More information is available at Export Control Training Program. Should you have questions, or to schedule training on the application of export controls to your research area, please contact the Office of Research Compliance at  (413) 545-3468 or via email at rescomp@research.umass.edu.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Your Responsibilities Related to Compliance with Export Control Laws and RegulationsNewsletter Headline: Your Responsibilities Related to Compliance with Export Control Laws and RegulationsTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

The Office of the Chancellor addressed researchers’ responsibilities related to compliance with export control laws and regulations in an email to the campus community earlier this week.

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Embryologist Kim Tremblay Will Explore the Secrets of Liver Regeneration

December 9, 2020

Scientists have known since ancient times, as notable in Greek mythology, that liver tissue has a remarkable ability to regenerate, but embryologist Kim Tremblay, veterinary and animal sciences, says, “We still don’t know how it does that, it’s still a mystery even after two thousand years.”

She now has a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to investigate how the organ can replace itself in an amazingly short time. “Unlike any of our other organs, if you cut out two-thirds of your liver, it will grow back in seven days,” she says. “What’s amazing about that time is that in many organisms that have a liver, it can grow back in seven days.”

The liver filters impurities, toxins, alcohol and drugs, for example, from the bloodstream, which kills many cells, so in a sense it’s not surprising that the organ can quickly respond to injury by making new ones, Tremblay says. “There is a reservoir of cells that replace the dead ones. The liver has a huge number of regenerative or homeostatic cues that trigger this, but we have not yet established which cells are responsible for this.”

As a developmental biologist, Tremblay will focus on how hepatic cell types emerge during embryonic development. Using this strategy, she hopes to address long-standing disagreement in the field regarding the cells that are involved in regeneration. “Some scientists think it’s one type, others insist it is another,” she says, “but the problem is that they are often using different regeneration models. What if adult cells are able to respond to distinct regenerative cues in unique ways because of where or how they arose in the embryo?”

In the embryonic liver bud, she explains, embryonic precursor cells called hepatoblasts differentiate into two distinct adult cell types – hepatocytes and cholangiocytes. Researchers have “varying views” about which of these might hold the regeneration key. “We do know they arise in different developmental pathways in the embryo and they look different in an adult,” Tremblay adds.

Her previous experiments in a culture system she developed show that hepatoblasts, the hepatic precursor cells, respond differentlyto cues – growth factors and other signals – in the embryo. Tremblay believes that a new series of investigations in a mouse liver model using targeted genetic techniques will show that both cell types harbor more than one as-yet-undiscovered variant.

“I think we haven’t yet discovered the differences within those groups,” the embryologist says. “The grant is designed to explore this heterogeneity in development. We’ll use RNA transcript analysis from knock-out mice to identify the roles of particular genes, and we’ll also explore ATAC-Seq.” ATAC-Seq is a sensitive technique used to look for epigenetic memory, which is where Tremblay hypothesizes that her lab will find the key to how the different cells arise.

“So far, the work in our lab has focused on the liver bud around 9.5 days of development,” Tremblay says. In the future, “we want to study the process later in development but still in the embryo.”

“By 10.5 days the liver is composed of hepatoblasts in lobes, and a slightly later cells start going down the path toward becoming hepatocytes or cholangiocytes. That’s when we’ll look at the different RNA transcripts, but I think we’re going to find that the answer has to do more with epigenetics and the different environmental signals the precursors are exposed to. Because developmentally acquired epigenetic traits can be maintained through adulthood, it could provide a mechanism that would explain why some adult liver respond to certain injuries better than others.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Embryologist Kim Tremblay Will Explore the Secrets of Liver RegenerationNewsletter Headline: Embryologist Kim Tremblay Will Explore the Secrets of Liver RegenerationTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Kim Tremblay, veterinary and animal sciences, has been awarded a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to investigate how the liver can replace itself in an amazingly short time. 

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UMass Amherst Polymer Scientist Awarded NSF CAREER Grant

Subhead: Katsumata grew up appreciating historic connection between UMass and Hokkaido U.Contact Name: Reika KatsumataContact Email: rkatumata@umass.eduDecember 9, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Polymer scientist Reika Katsumata at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently was chosen to receive a prestigious 2021 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year, $595,000 grant will support her investigations into fundamental problems bridging polymer science and engineering to better understand how different-sized molecules move in relationship to each other when they are heated.

As she explains, understanding such multi-scale polymer dynamics “is very important to how you form and shape polymers for use at room temperature. We are trying to understand what is going on at the molecular level. It’s a long-standing, sixty-year-old problem.”

Surprisingly, the molecular details are not known, Katsumata adds. “Every day I learn how little we know about materials and their relationships.” In particular, these dynamics are not straightforward for nanocomposites, she notes, and her lab will bring new knowledge at this level. Also, she has special expertise in fluorescence techniques that she will use in a series of experiments that for the first time combine two distinct methods to achieve new breakthroughs.

“Anyone trying to make polymers into shapes will be excited with our results,” she says. “They should be really useful in 3D printing techniques that use heat. The other area we hope to contribute to is applications that use polymers at a very small scale, called nano-imprinting. It’s a hot stamping method for stamping patterns on optoelectrical devices. When you’re making those it’s important to know the flow properties of the polymer.”

Katsumata says her research will focus on the relationships and flow between polymer chains and surrounding medium in a melted state and how to control this so that when the mixture cools and turns to a solid or glass state, it is evenly mixed and homogeneous. Both glass and melt properties are crucial to designing processing operations for making polymers for different applications.

Her lab’s experiments will involve mixing a large molecule with nanomolecules to create a nanocomposite. “If we can make a material with low viscosity, or flow, in the processing phase, but one that’s very rigid in the solid state, that will be easier to process,” but the task is very difficult, she points out. “Many people have tried. To do it, we have to find out what causes nanocomposites to have different flow properties from those of neat materials.”

Katsumata, who for this work developed combined fluoresence methods that no one had attempted before, is particularly interested in introducing the wider use of fluorescence techniques in polymer engineering. “The idea that NSF agrees that this is an exciting project worth spending money on makes me very happy,” she says.

To encourage creative thinking and the use of several powerful fluorescence methods into her field, Katsumata plans to design a new course as part of her NSF project. As she explains, “Right now the life sciences are much more advanced in using fluorescence techniques, and there is a huge gap that I want to bridge to materials science.”

She plans to introduce a new course in the next couple of years to teach students the range of fluorescence methods available. She will then ask them to develop tangible projects for use as outreach demonstrations for K-12 students, in particular in the College of Natural Science’s Eureka! program for middle and high school girls.

Katsumata came to UMass Amherst in 2018 with roots in her mother’s family home in Hokkaido, Japan. The researcher grew up very much aware of the connection between the UMass Amherst campus and Hokkaido University. It dates back to William Smith Clark, third president of Massachusetts Agricultural College, who helped to found Sapporo Agricultural College, now Hokkaido University. The campuses now have extensive undergraduate student and faculty exchange, among other exchange programs.

Katsumata says, “I feel right at home in the Pioneer Valley because at home on Hokkaido there is a similar pioneer spirit, where the people developed beautiful valleys with agriculture similar to here.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Polymer Scientist Awarded NSF CAREER GrantNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Polymer Scientist Awarded NSF CAREER GrantTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Polymer scientist Reika Katsumata at UMass recently was chosen to receive a prestigious 2021 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year, $595,000 grant will support her investigations into fundamental problems bridging polymer science and engineering to better understand how different-sized molecules move in relationship to each other when they are heated.

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Riding in a Car in the Pandemic: Which Windows to Open?

Subhead: UMass Amherst research reveals some non-intuitive answersContact Name: Varghese MathaiContact Email: vmathai@umass.eduDecember 4, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – If you find yourself in a car with someone outside your household during the COVID-19 pandemic, your instinct may be to roll down your window, whether you’re the driver or a back-seat passenger. But a University of Massachusetts Amherst physicist has shown in a new study that opening the car window closest to you isn’t always the best option to protect yourself from coronavirus or any airborne infection.

In a paper published today, Dec. 4, in the journal Science Advances, researchers have revealed certain surprising ways in which the airflow patterns within a car’s interior could either heighten or suppress the risk of airborne infection during everyday commutes.

“One might imagine that people instinctively open windows right beside them while riding with a co-passenger during the pandemic. That may not be optimal – though it’s better than opening no window,” says lead author Varghese Mathai, an assistant professor of physics at UMass Amherst.

He explains, “We designed this research with ride-sharing in mind, from a traditional taxi or Uber and Lyft to noncommercial commutes, assuming a driver and one passenger, seated in the back on the passenger side to provide the best possible spacing between the occupants.”

Briefly, the research suggests that opening the windows farthest from the driver and the back-seat passenger might offer some benefits. The findings may provide COVID-19 risk reduction measures for the hundreds of millions of people driving in passenger cars or taking a taxi worldwide.

The most and least risky scenarios for airborne pathogen transmission in a car are understood by scientists: Opening all the windows, along with bringing in fresh air through the vents, is thought to create the best in-cabin environment to reduce the risk of transmission by increasing ventilation. Keeping all the windows up and using only the recirculating air mode is likely the riskiest option.

Realizing the impracticalities of keeping all car windows open in winter or rainy weather, Mathai wanted to examine what happens to aerosolized particles exhaled by occupants inside the car’s cabin under various configurations of open and closed windows. “These tiny, potentially pathogenic particles remain in the air for long durations without settling down, so if they are not flushed out of the cabin, they can build up over time posing an increased risk of infection,” he explains. 

Generally, the air flowing around a car creates a lower pressure on the front windows as compared to the back windows, Mathai says. “We had this idea that if you open the rear and front windows on opposite sides, then you might create an air current from the rear to the front of the cabin, and crossing through the middle.”

The study was conducted with colleagues Asimanshu Das, Jeffrey Bailey and Kenneth Breuer at Brown University, where Mathai worked previously and started the study. The researchers hypothesized that if all windows can’t be left open, opening the front window on the right side and the rear window on the left side might best protect the driver and passenger from the hundreds of aerosol particles released in every human breath.

“To our surprise, the simulations showed an air current that acts like a barrier between the driver and the passenger,” says Mathai, who likened this phenomenon to the air curtain created by a draft blown down vertically at some supermarket entrances, which prevents outdoor air from mixing with indoor air, even if the entrance door is open. “While these measures are no substitute for wearing a face mask while inside a car, they can help reduce the pathogen load inside the very confined space of a car cabin,” he points out.

Like many other researchers during the pandemic, Mathai — an experimental physicist — decided to shift his focus toward computer simulations while working from home. He later backed up his findings using smoke visualization and field tests that identified low-speed and high-speed zones inside the car. 

The research describes the driver-to-passenger and passenger-to-driver transmission for different ventilation options, and used passive scalar transport as a proxy for infectious particles. Heat maps illustrate the scalar concentration fields originating from either the driver or passenger.

The researchers used a simplified, time-averaged model for the turbulent air flow, and study implications are limited to airborne mode of transmission, the authors stress. The computer model was based roughly on the exterior of a Toyota Prius driven at around 50 mph and the field tests of smoke and flow wand were recorded in the cabin of a Kia Optima.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Riding in a Car in the Pandemic: Which Windows to Open?Newsletter Headline: Riding in a Car in the Pandemic: Which Windows to Open?Tag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

If you find yourself in a car with someone outside your household during the COVID-19 pandemic, your instinct may be to roll down your window, whether you’re the driver or a back-seat passenger. But a UMass physicist has shown in a new study that opening the car window closest to you isn’t always the best option to protect yourself from coronavirus or any airborne infection.

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Six UMass Amherst Faculty Recognized Among 2020 World’s Most Highly Cited Researchers

Subhead: Annual list analyzes papers in Web of Science’s science and social science journalsContact Name: Janet LathropContact Email: jlathrop@umass.eduDecember 3, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Six campus researchers in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been recognized among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2020 by London-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of the Web of Science. They have consistently had high citation counts over a decade.

Now in its seventh year, the citation analysis identifies influential researchers as determined by their peers around the world. They are judged to be influential, and their citation records are seen as “a mark of exceptional impact,” the company says.

The six from UMass Amherst are environmental chemist Baoshan Xing in CNS’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Distinguished Professor of Food Science David Julian McClements and food scientist Hang Xiao, microbiologist Kelly Nevin Lovley, materials scientist Thomas P. Russell, and Vincent Rotello, the Charles A. Goessmann Professor of Chemistry and a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. All are repeat members of the list.

McClements is internationally known for his cutting-edge work in food design and nanotechnology, including encapsulating nutraceuticals in nanoparticles to preserve nutrients. Xiao’s lab focuses on molecular mechanisms and interactions of possible disease-preventing nutraceuticals to enhance nutrient bioavailability through food processing and nanotechnology, among other topics.

Nevin Lovley’s lab, part of the Geobacter Project, works to determine the electron transport chain in these bacteria with a goal to develop techniques to optimize the cells’ electrical production for better fuel cell performance, among other goals. The Rotello lab takes a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing chemistry, biology and biomedical engineering, to tailor nanomaterials to develop new biological applications.

Russell, internationally known as an inventor, names his lab’s research interests in polymer phase-transition, polymers’ surface and interfacial properties, directed self-assembly processes and using polymers as scaffolds and templates to generate nanoscopic structures. Environmental scientist Xing’s lab focuses on protecting the environment by maintaining and improving soil and water quality. This includes investigating the behavior and agricultural application of engineered nanomaterials, and using spectroscopic and analytical instruments to study interactions among organic compounds, natural organic matter and mineral particles.

The highly cited list, announced from the company’s United States office in Philadelphia, names a total of about 3,400 highly cited researchers in science and social science fields. The company says it “focuses on contemporary research achievement: Only highly cited papers in science and social science journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection” during the most recent 11-year period are surveyed.

Two years ago, Highly Cited Researchers introduced a new cross-field category to identify researchers with substantial influence across several fields during the data census period. At UMass Amherst, Nevin Lovley and Rotello appear in this category for 2020.

The report’s editors point out, “There is no unique or universally agreed concept of what constitutes extraordinary research performance and elite status in the sciences and social sciences. Consequently, no quantitative indicators will reveal a list that satisfies all expectations or requirements. Moreover, a different basis or formula for selection would generate a different – though likely overlapping – list of names. Thus, the absence of a name on our list cannot be interpreted as inferior performance or stature in comparison to those selected.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Six UMass Amherst Faculty Recognized Among 2020 World’s Most Highly Cited ResearchersNewsletter Headline: Six UMass Amherst Faculty Recognized Among 2020 World’s Most Highly Cited ResearchersTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Six campus researchers in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at UMass have been recognized among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2020 by London-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of the Web of Science. They have consistently had high citation counts over a decade.

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UMass Amherst Study Will Assess Impact of Dual-use Solar-agriculture Installations in Massachusetts

Subhead: Farms and communities need more science-based information on effects, experts sayContact Name: Dwayne BregerContact Email: dbreger@umass.eduDecember 2, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technology Office announced recently that a team led by extension professor Dwayne Breger at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been selected for a three-year, $1.8 million award to study the effects of co-locating solar energy panels and agriculture operations at up to eight different farms across the Commonwealth. The work will be in partnership with landowners, state agencies, solar developers and a non-profit farmland organization.

Breger, who is also director of UMass Clean Energy Extension, says, “Our objective with this award is to have the opportunity to do robust research to address the dearth of data on the impact of this solar approach to agricultural productivity and farm viability. We need data on how the agriculture will perform, and how the project economics will affect individual farms and the state agricultural economy as a whole.”

He adds, “Right now, many communities don’t have the necessary experience to understand and manage the solar development that is coming, and farmers don’t have science-based facts to fully assess the opportunities that developers are proposing to them. Our project will do the research to allow us to help farmers and communities make informed decisions about the solar opportunities that are coming their way.”

Breger points out that two state agencies, the Massachusetts Departments of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) and Energy Resources (DOER), are keenly interested in this project, as outcomes will provide the science to inform policy development.

Jody Jellison, director of the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment and UMass Extension, says, “The dual use of land for farming and solar energy has gotten many people excited about its potential. Now, with this new project, we’ll be able to begin developing data to quantify the agronomic and economic effects on farming to determine whether that excitement is warranted or not.”

Breger and research colleagues at UMass Extension, the UMass Cranberry Station, the campus’s Department of Resource Economics and the American Farmland Trust will study the economic and social impact of solar-agriculture co-location on farms by establishing site trials and assessing crop productivity, soil health, and micro-climatic conditions. Sites will grow a range of crops including pumpkins, strawberries, greens, winter squash, cranberries, hay, grazing, other vegetables and other small fruit.

Farm partners are in Grafton, Carver, Dighton, Plympton, Hadley, Colrain, and Charlemont. Solar developer partners BlueWave Solar, Pine Gate Renewables and Hyperion Systems are dedicating portions of their commercial dual-use solar installations at these farms for research site trials enabling a robust research scope over varied agricultural conditions. Most site trials will get underway in March 2021 in time for the first planting, Breger says.

He and colleagues will also study public acceptance of solar-agriculture co-location and develop practical co-location management guidelines for growers, solar developers and other relevant stakeholders. The U.S. DOE says it is interested in “research and analysis that enable farmers, ranchers and other agricultural enterprises to gain value from solar technologies while keeping land available for agricultural purposes.”

Breger notes that UMass Amherst’s Crop Animal Research and Education Center and farm in South Deerfield hosts one of the state’s first dual-use solar-agricultural installations, giving the campus valuable early experience in this research area.

MDAR Commissioner John Lebeaux says his agency is “thrilled and thankful” that DOE selected the experienced and diverse UMass team for this important land use research. “This study will help us further understand the agronomical criteria necessary for viable, compatible dual use of agricultural land and solar installations over a range of agricultural production and conditions” – important information for Massachusetts farms wishing to keep their valuable agricultural land in active, marketable production while implementing clean energy, balancing both needs and goals, he notes.

DOER Commissioner Patrick Woodcock adds that this project builds on the department’s existing support of promoting solar development along with maintaining existing agriculture production. “Designing solar projects to maximize both energy and agriculture yields on the same property requires extensive data collection and this award from DOE will contribute to Massachusetts’ leadership in this emerging sector.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Study Will Assess Impact of Dual-use Solar-agriculture Installations in MassachusettsNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Study Will Assess Impact of Dual-use Solar-agriculture Installations in MassachusettsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technology Office announced recently that a team led by extension professor Dwayne Breger at UMass has been selected for a three-year, $1.8 million award to study the effects of co-locating solar energy panels and agriculture operations at up to eight different farms across the Commonwealth.

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