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"Detecting Airborne Viruses," "Fighting Emerald Ash Borer," and "Turning Food Waste into Fuel"

Detecting Airborne Viruses

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.

Photo Credit: binael/Pixabay

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.

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