Science and CSU

Planting a seed to expand ag research




The roots of relevant agricultural research draw intellectual nutrients from many realms – from genomics, proteomics, irrigation, immigration, soil science, atmospheric physics, law, policy, technology, and more.

Answers to questions about water supply, food safety, airborne pollutants, and other challenges increasingly require perspectives from beyond the traditional herd of agricultural experts. That’s why the California State University’s Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) rounded up about five dozen researchers with diverse backgrounds at the CSU Chancellor’s Office earlier this month for a one-day conference.

ARI Executive Director Joe Bezerra gave the group, which represented 18 of the CSU’s 23 campuses, one goal: To identify and foster new innovative and collaborative research partnerships among CSU faculty.

Some participants, such as lettuce geneticist David Still of Cal Poly Pomona, are familiar faces within ARI. In previous ARI research collaborations, his lab has sought to boost both the nutrient value and shelf life of lettuce.

When the introduction round reached him, Still said, “We look at how plants work and how to make them work better.”

Others, such as physicist Jorge Talamantes of CSU Bakersfield, were new to the group. In recent years Talamantes has investigated the transmission of valley fever, which emanates from spores of a soil fungus. His research team analyses vegetative patterns in satellite images of the Central Valley.

“If you inhale the spores, you become infected; and it can kill you,” he told the group. “We’re looking to map (fungus) locations with vegetation type as a marker.”

When their turns came, others highlighted their own research interests in olive oil, aerosol particles, human feeding, plant breeding, biofuels, invading grasses, pollination preserves for millions of bees, the search for traces of metals in membranes, risk management of farm practices, “leaky parts” of the nitrogen cycle, safe cheese production, and knowledge transfer in developing countries. The range of research covered the remote sensing of snow cover in the Sierra Nevada, urban agriculture in Southern California, and raising meat goats in Northern California.

Since its founding in 1999, Bezerra reported, ARI has funded about 650 peer-reviewed research projects through $50 million in funding from the state and an additional $200 million from industrial partners, federal agencies and other sources. Each year, about 400 graduate and undergraduate students serve as paid research assistants.

“We use research to develop science-based information for people to make important decisions,” he said.

— Sean Kearns