"Detecting Airborne Viruses," "Fighting Emerald Ash Borer," and "Turning Food Waste into Fuel"
Given that we’ve spent the past
year and a half living through a pandemic, most people don’t need to
be convinced of the need to better
understand how to detect infectious
viruses in the air and understand
how they travel.
Researchers from the U of M’s
School of Public Health (SPH) and
College of Veterinary Medicine
(CVM) wanted to know how deeply
influenza virus and coronavirus
enter the respiratory tracts of
both humans and animals. Using
sampler devices that use liquids,
controlled airflow, filters, and static
electricity to capture and measure
particles, the team released droplets containing test viruses into the
air and measured the amounts and
concentrations of infectious virus
and viral RNA within each sampler.
They discovered that higher
quantities of viruses were detected
by samplers that processed higher
volumes of air. However, samplers
that processed less air were able to
more accurately measure airborne
concentrations of infectious virus
and viral RNA.
The conclusion? A two-sampler
approach may be needed to accurately detect and assess airborne
viruses. “This research helps us learn
how to better measure airborne
viruses not only in animal agriculture
settings, but also in places like
healthcare facilities and mass transit
vehicles,” says study lead and SPH
Professor Peter Raynor.
This research was originally published in the January 28 issue of Plos One.
Fighting Emerald Ash Borer
There are nearly one billion ash trees in Minnesota.
Not only do they reduce air pollution and act as a
buffer against storm water runoff, but their light green
canopies are so appealing that they also increase
housing property values. Unfortunately, ash trees are
also highly susceptible to infestations of the emerald
ash borer (EAB), the most invasive forest insect in the
United States. Larval-stage EAB feed beneath the
bark, burrowing tunnels as long as 20 inches. To date,
hundreds of millions of these deciduous beauties have
become infected and died.
Now, new findings from researchers at the U of
M’s Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests
Center (MITPPC) offer hope that these devastating
infestations may one day be controlled. Using DNA
sequencing from trees located between Rochester
and Duluth, scientists identified different types of
fungi living in ash trees. In addition to finding fungi
that can cause wood decay, they also discovered
entomopathogenic fungi, which attack insects. Going
forward, researchers will work to determine if these
fungi can be employed to kill EAB.
“Ash trees are vitally important to Minnesota,”
says Rob Venette, MITPPC director. “It’s critical we
work to protect them from this invasive pest.”
This study was published in the February issue of Fungal Biology.
Turning Food Waste into Fuel
Now that composting has gone mainstream, researchers are eager to find uses for our food scraps that go beyond enriching our garden soil. A group of scientists at the U of M’s College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) teamed up with Twin Cities food bank Second Harvest to look at potential uses for spoiled food, including heat, energy, and fertilizer.
Using anaerobic bacteria to metabolize the food waste in oxygen-free chambers—called digesters—
researchers were able to produce renewable “biogas,” which is a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane. The bacteria also produce phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, which can be used as fertilizer for crops.
Second Harvest, which is the nation’s second largest food bank, estimates that using this technology will save upwards of $200,000 on annual costs to haul away unusable food—proceeds that can instead be used to serve more families facing food insecurity. To test this concept, the nonprofit has installed an airtight digester at one of its facilities. CFANS and CSE researchers expect that similar systems can also be employed to convert organic matter from manure and sewage into biogas.
Learn more here.
Huge thanks to University Public Relations for their help with these briefs.