Nov 14, 2017
Weed science group boosts efforts with grants

Weed science research isn’t limited solely to seasoned experts with advanced degrees. In fact, savvy and creative undergrads are getting into the act, nurtured along by research grants from the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA).

One example:  Last year Matthew Strelau, a student at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, spent his summer studying potential herbicide resistance in invasive populations of Bohemian knotweed. He now is coauthoring an article for a major Canadian weed science journal to share his findings.

This year nine undergraduate students had an opportunity to follow in Strelau’s footsteps.  WSSA provided up to $2000 to each of them to fund the following research programs:

  • Colorado State University: Amelia Haddad is investigating cryptic hybridization as a cause of failure in toadflax biocontrol. Advisor: Sarah Ward.
  • Cornell University: Roxana Padilla is exploring whether weedy plants in the Apiaceae family lure ladybeetles as a protection against harmful pests.  Advisor: Antonio DiTommaso.
  • Kansas State University (two winners): Ryan Engle is exploring how kochia responds to dicamba and diflufenzopyr based on various doses and application methods. Advisor: Phillip Stahlman. Undergrad Abigail Friesen will try to confirm whether wild buckwheat in Kansas is resistant to ALS inhibitors. Advisor: Mithila Jugulam.
  • Montana State University: Hayden Bateman is exploring whether beet armyworms prefer herbicide-susceptible or herbicide-resistant wild oat. Advisor: William Dyer.
  • The University of Georgia: Taylor Randell is exploring the tolerance of seeded and transplanted cucumber to glufosinate applied preplant and preemergent. Advisor: Stanley Culpepper.
  • University of California, Davis: Drew Alonso Wolter is evaluating the effect of dose and temperature on glyphosate-resistant jungle rice and other summer annual grasses in tree and vine cropping systems. Advisor: Brad Hanson.
  • Virginia Tech (two winners): Kaitlyn Posey is exploring whether plants are able to recognize neighboring plants growing nearby.  Kayla Varnon will study the effect of temperature and water potential on the germination of Johnsongrass. Both are advised by Jacob Barney.

A stepping stone to a career in weed science

The undergrad research grants funded by WSSA are producing a ripple effect in the field of weed science.  One example is found in the experiences of Todd Gaines, Ph.D., an assistant professor of molecular weed science at Colorado State University.

In 2003 Gaines was an undergrad honors student at Colorado State who had yet to decide on a career. His advisor and mentor, Cynthia Brown, encouraged him to apply for an undergraduate research award from WSSA. His winning proposal involved greenhouse experiments exploring the genetics of Canada thistle.

“It was my first time working with DNA, and I found I really enjoyed it,” Gaines said “It gave me a focal point for my career and led me to accept a graduate research fellowship at Colorado State to continue my studies.”

Today Gaines is considered one of the top molecular weed scientists in the country and has devoted his career to weed science research. In his lab at Colorado State, he is helping to improve sustainable weed management by exploring topics like the genetics of herbicide resistance and the evolution and complex genetic basis of plant “weediness.”   

He also has come full circle. In 2015 he encouraged one of his own students, Olivia Todd, to apply for a WSSA research award. She was selected for the honor and now is a graduate student at Colorado State – ready to launch her own career in weed science.

“What the society is doing to cultivate an interest in weed science and to recognize people for their accomplishments early in their career is definitely making an impact,” Gaines said.

How to apply

Further information on WSSA’s “John Jachetta Undergraduate Research Award” and how to apply are available online. Proposals are due by December 20, 2017.

About the Weed Science Society of America

The Weed Science Society of America, a nonprofit scientific society, was founded in 1956 to encourage and promote the development of knowledge concerning weeds and their impact on the environment. The Society promotes research, education and extension outreach activities related to weeds, provides science-based information to the public and policy makers, fosters awareness of weeds and their impact on managed and natural ecosystems, and promotes cooperation among weed science organizations across the nation and around the world. For more information, visit www.wssa.net.

– Lee Van Wychen, Science Policy Director, National & Regional Weed Science Societies

[email protected]





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