UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative to support four projects with CALS ties

Fourteen highly innovative research projects have been chosen for the first round of funding by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education for the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative.

CALS researchers are involved in four of the selected projects:

Novel Electrodes for Hydroxyl Radical Production to Enable Low-cost Water Treatment
Principal Investigator: Joel Pederson, soil science

Billions of people worldwide lack safe, clean water. This project will focus on developing new electrode materials to form highly reactive hydroxyl radicals to purify water. The project will develop energy-efficient means to create these radicals and evaluate their effectiveness to inactivate bacteria and viruses. The researchers will also test for the formation of toxic byproducts that may result when hydroxyl radicals react with constituents in natural water.

Systematic Functional Annotation of Orphan Proteins by High Throughput Mass Spectrometry Profiling
Principal Investigator: David Pagliarini, biochemistry

Major advances over the past two decades have identified new genes, but understanding the functions of the proteins these genes encode lags behind hindering new therapies. This is particularly constrictive for mitochondria, whose dysfunction contributes to about 150 human disorders. An innovative strategy to predict the functions of uncharacterized mitochondrial proteins was recently devised. This project will extend this strategy and advance a powerful new technology for the annotation of human gene function, the discovery of therapeutic targets, and the identification of causative lesions in human diseases.

Full-Range Imaging Spectrometer Enables an Innovative Linkage of Genetic, Plant Trait and Remote Sensing/Spectroscopy Data
Principal Investigator: Phil Townsend, forest and wildlife ecology
Co-Principal Investigators: Eric Kruger, forest and wildlife ecology; Paul Bethke, horticulture; Amy Charkowski, plant pathology; Shawn Conley, agronomy; Rick Lindroth, entomology
Collaborators: Natalie de Leon, agronomy; Claudio Gratton, entomology

Scientists have developed an unprecedented ability to measure the physiology, chemistry and genetics of crops and natural ecosystems. Many of these traits can be mapped using extraordinary new remote sensing technologies. This project will use a full-range (400-2500 nm) hyperspectral remote sensing system to map the biochemistry and physiological status of agricultural and natural vegetation in near-real time, helping to characterize plant genetics and predict the performance of different plant varieties. This instrument will be of wide interest and value to researchers and practitioners in agriculture, environmental science, land management, water quality and ecology.

Anticipating Abrupt Ecological Change in the 21st Century
Co-Principal Investigator: Christopher Kucharik, agronomy

Scientists have documented sudden changes in populations and ecosystems in the past, but it remains difficult to anticipate such changes in coming decades. This project will develop new theoretical and mathematical approaches to establish a broadly applicable framework for understanding ecological change. The grant funds the new “UW-Madison Center for Study of Abrupt Change in Ecological Systems” (ACES) to focus four real-world examples such as harmful algal blooms that occur in over-fertilized lakes and risk to crop yields with climate warming and declining water availability. Results are expected to be relevant for a broad range of ecological systems.

Read more about the funding program and research projects in this UW-Madison news release.