Spotlight on Research

Faculty member and student viewing samples in the HerbariumAnna Monfils

CMU plays part in NSF grant to further digitize biodiversity collections

In a nation wide effort to digitize biodiversity collections, The National Science Foundation has awarded 6 new grants in the NSF Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections Program totaling roughly $7.5 million. This 4th round of grants brings the number of participating institutions to 200, in all 50 states.

A vast amount of information about biodiversity exists in drawers and on shelves in museum collections, making access to that information difficult.  "These collections have immense scientific value," said Dr. Anna Monfils, Director of the CMU Herbarium and Associate Professor of Biology at Central Michigan University. 

"Herbarium collections have been used to document how invasive genotype have invaded the U.S., how climate change and increased carbon dioxide can be linked to changes in plant morphology as it relates to gas exchange, and the impacts of hurricane Katrina and the recent oil spill in the gulf. We can get DNA off these specimens. Specimens collected years ago are being studied and new species are being discovered in the archives."  

The NSF Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections Program address the need for greater accessibility to this data by making it available online.  The data generated will be publicly available through iDigBio's specimen portal, which already contains over 20 million specimen records.  

Central Michigan University will be "providing high resolution images, geo-referenced locations and specimen data for identified aquatic invasive species found in our Herbarium collection," Monfils said.  

In addition, Dr. Monfils will compile the Aquatic Invasive Species specimen data from 9 different Michigan institutions and provide that to the larger collaborative effort as well as work with Symbiota, a library of web tools built to aid biologists, taxonomists, and environmental educators, to develop a Great Lakes portal to the data. 

"This effort is designed to integrate data sources so we can examine Aquatic Invasive Species through time and space," Monfils said. 

The research done with this funding will make available information that is inaccessible to most scientists, policymakers, and educators. Certain specimens, some dating back to the 1600's, are stored across the country in drawers and on shelves. Because of this the existence of many specimens goes largely unknown and gaining access to them is difficult. A comprehensive cataloged digital collection will allow instant access to information that scientists might have never known was there.  ​

Faculty member and student viewing samples under a microscopePhilip Hertzler

Shrimp in detail: Hertzler secures funding for applied research

Philip Hertzler had the embryonic development of shrimp down to a science.

Now CMU's shrimp embryology expert has the funding and equipment he needs to examine shrimp development at a microscopic scale, allowing him to observe germ cells as they develop into sperm or eggs.

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization - one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world - has awarded Hertzler an AU $450,000 grant over three years. Hertzler also has access to the college's new laser scanning confocal microscope, which is paired with a high-tech computer and provides better imaging precision.

"We don't know where these cells are located in the embryos," says Hertzler, who is involving some of his students in the research that will greatly enhance the shrimp farming industry. "The main goal of the research is to identify how the germ cells form in the shrimp. If we know how the germ cells form, we can prevent them from forming."

The grant marks the first time CSIRO has awarded projects to groups outside of Australia. Hertzler's project - "Novel biotechnologies for prawn fertility control" - is part of a larger project titled "Sex ratio and sterility for commercial animal production," a collaboration among the University of Queensland, University of Newcastle, Simon Fraser University (Canada), CMU and CSIRO partners.

The shrimp industry, according to Hertzler, is looking to maximize its economic potential, just as the beef, pork and chicken industries have used traditional breeding methods to improve the quality and production of their animals.

Hertzler and his students are isolating genes from shrimp that are known to be involved in germ cell specification in other animals. Identifying how germ cells form can assist in developing sterile shrimp. Since sterile shrimp develop as females, which grow larger than males, this project has great implications for shrimp aquaculture.

"This makes a huge economic impact. The shrimp farming industry is focused on the selective breeding of shrimp," Hertzler says. "The key to protecting this intellectual property is to ensure the shrimp can't reproduce. This prevents them from interbreeding with wild shrimp populations so that shrimp farmers continue to return to the suppliers for genetically improved stock."

Shrimp consistently rank No. 1 in the National Fisheries Institute's "Top Ten" of seafood consumed each year - ahead of canned tuna, salmon, Alaska pollock and tilapia. In 2009 shrimp accounted for more than 25 percent of the nearly 16 pounds of seafood Americans ate per capita.