SPUR 2019 Projects: Science

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SPUR projects are listed in alphabetical order by faculty mentor last name.

School of Biological Sciences | College of Science

Using plant physiology to predict the future of western US forests in a changing climate

Bill Anderegg, Assistant Professor

Trees play an important role in how ecosystems function and are particularly critical in the regulation of the hydrological cycle. Climate change is projected to cause more frequent and severe droughts therefore tree response to drought is critical to understand global carbon and water fluxes under future conditions.

This research project aims to improve our understanding of how western US forests will respond to changes in water availability (i.e. drought) driven by climate change. Current research suggests there will likely be a mismatch between the rate of climate change and the ability of certain forest tree species to acclimate, either in-place or by migration. A potential management option for these tree species is assisted migration, which involves selecting and planting the trees expected to grow best under climate change.

We plan a suite of field and lab measurements to assess drought tolerance in multiple major western US tree species. We will conduct a common garden study with aspen trees from natural populations across the across the Intermountain West US (i.e. Utah, Colorado) to address this research topic. We will conduct fieldwork in multiple forest stands to assess in-situ drought-resistance. This research project will consist of both field and laboratory components to conduct plot surveys, collect meteorological data, measure various morphological and physiological traits, and analyze tree cores.

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School of Biological Sciences | College of Science

David Belnap, Research Associate Professor

Viruses are biological entities that encase a genome in a protective membranous covering or protein shell. The coverings or shells are found in a large diversity of shapes and sizes. Polyomaviruses are viruses that infect humans and many other animals. The capsids of polyomaviruses are made up of protein VP1. This protein has the unusual ability to form shells of different shapes. Different shapes are formed by treating the protein under different chemical conditions. One shape that can be formed is an octahedral shell. We will grow VP1 in bacteria, harvest the protein, form octahedral particles, and image particles by cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Cryo-EM will include two-dimensional imaging followed by three-dimensional image reconstruction of the octahedral structure. Finally, we will model the atomic-resolution structure of the octahedral form and compare it to other known forms. This study should enable us to better understand how polyomavirus VP1 is able to form such divergent shells.

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