In the first study of its kind, Rice University scientists have used synthetic biology to study how a popular soil amendment called “biochar” can interfere with the chemical signals that some microbes use to communicate. The class of compounds studied includes those used by some plant pathogens to coordinate their attacks.
Biochar is charcoal that is produced — typically from waste wood, manure or leaves — for use as a soil additive. Studies have found biochar can improve both the nutrient- and water-holding properties of soil, but its popularity in recent years also owes to its ability to reduce greenhouse gases by storing carbon in soil, in some cases for many centuries.
The new study, published online this month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is the first to examine how biochar affects the chemical signaling that’s routinely used by soil microorganisms that interact with plants.
Studies of braille reading and the impact of skewed sex ratios on plant populations are among the five innovative research proposals chosen to receive grants from the Faculty Initiatives Fund (FIF) for academic year 2013-14.
“These grants are intended to help faculty members develop adventurous projects that might enhance the university and that might lead to larger endeavors, research breakthroughs, external funding opportunities or unusually creative works,” said Caroline Levander, vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives.
Levander assembled a committee of faculty from across the university to review the proposals. Among the review criteria were relevance to the Vision for the Second Century, particularly the fostering of collaborative interdisciplinary relationships; quality, significance and potential impact; potential for additional external funding; and enrichment of research opportunities for students. The awards range between $5,000 and $50,000.
Backyard gardeners who make their own charcoal soil additives, or biochar, should take care to heat their charcoal to at least 450 degrees Celsius to ensure that water and nutrients get to their plants, according to a new study by Rice University scientists.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Biomass and Bioenergy, is timely because biochar is attracting thousands of amateur and professional gardeners, and some companies are also scaling up industrial biochar production.
Fortified foods, pediatric heart valves that grow with a patient and the effects of biochar on microbes are among the winners of awards presented by Rice University’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB).
The Hamill Awards and IBB Medical Innovations Awards, which include seed grants, will be presented Nov. 29. The Hamill Foundation and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation funded the awards.
Three projects were chosen in the seventh year of the Hamill Awards, which fund collaborative research projects led by IBB faculty.
A team of four from Rice will look at how the addition of charcoal to an ecosystem, either intentionally or by fire, affects the coordinated behaviors of its living organisms. Caroline Masiello, assistant professor of Earth science; Jennifer Rudgers, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Jonathan Silberg, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology; and Kyriacos Zygourakis, the A.J. Hartsook Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, hope to learn how biochar — coal produced for carbon sequestration — impacts communication between cells in microbial cultures.