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IALC Peace Fellowship Report 26 June - 23 July 1997

Michelle Byington
Undergraduate Student
New Mexico State University

IALC Peace Fellowship Research Tour
and Follow-up Visits with Research Scientists

The International Arid Lands Consortium provides a broad base for the coordination of activities in the field of arid lands research and management. In addition to sustainable development, the IALC continues to support and promote the Middle East peace process through its workshops and symposiums. The Peace Fellowship Program was established to provide an opportunity for outstanding undergraduate students to participate in scientific research in host countries. This program links students with researchers from different countries that are members of the Consortium. It is one step toward the exchange of resources and expertise among scientific institutions. 1997 was the second year of the program, with four students selected as Peace Fellows to research a variety of projects in Israel. I am honored to be one of the students selected for this fellowship.

I was nominated as a Peace Fellow by Dr. James Fisher (Professor, NMSU) and Dr. Gary Cunningham, Associate Dean and Director of the Agriculture Experiment Station (NMSU). I was given the opportunity to view different research projects being conducted in Israel before choosing a researcher to work with. This experience was valuable in deciding which project would best suit my interests and goals. Dr. Nir Atzmon of the Volcani Center accepted my request to join his research projects during my fellowship.

My research opportunities included lab work and field experience in several projects researching mycorrhizae fungi. The experiments in the lab were chosen to evaluate mycorrhizae and pathogen interaction, as well as appropriate media for mycorrhizae growth. Various mycorrhizae treatments were applied to tree seedlings to examine how each enhanced root growth and shoot mass in the presence of pathogens. Another objective of these experiments was to determine if mycorrhizae inhibit the growth and progress of different plant pathogens.

I was also given the opportunity to learn and implement techniques for carbohydrate extraction and analysis from plant tissue. Because mycorrhizae and tree seedlings form a symbiotic balance, these experiments were designed to evaluate how that balance might affect seedling establishment. The fungi encourage seedling establishment via enhancing root growth, but at the same time use carbohydrates that may be needed by the young plants. The carbohydrate analysis was designed to determine if any detrimental effects may result from mycorrhizae treatments, or if the treatments correlate a specific assimilate distribution in the plant roots.

I had several opportunities to participate in field work as well. We spent one day marking trees in a forest for different chemical treatments. The object is to find a way to prevent shoot growth from the root collar after the trees have been damaged. It is important to maintain one main stem so that the samples develop into trees rather than shrubs....I was also given the opportunity to work with graduate students on their theses, allowing me exposure to a variety of work with the same general premise. This experience included field measurements (height and diameter) of seedlings that had been planted under the various mycorrhizae treatments. Other seedlings were dried and weighed to determine how mycorrhizae treatments affect the root and shoot mass of pine seedlings. The preliminary analysis showed significant difference between six types of mycorrhizae, as well as those seedlings left untreated.

Another field experiment was being conducted at the wastewater treatment facility near Tel Aviv. Several Eucalyptus trees were planted in drums and irrigated with the effluent water. We took soil samples to determine how well these trees remove toxic materials from the soil.

With all of this research, the basic premise is to determine how mycorrhizae fungi can be used to aid forest establishment in the harsh, dry climate of Israel. I found it very appropriate to my interest in forest management and establishment, and it was easy to see parallels between the climate of the Middle East and that of the desert Southwest in the United States.

My fellowship experience included much more than the research described above. I met several knowledgeable people in the area of arid lands research as well as students from several different countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Sweden, and Germany.. An amazing amount can be learned from conversations with people, and the sharing of cultures is a great step in bringing the communities of the world closer together. This may have been one of the most valuable aspects of my stay in Israel.

I also had the opportunity to travel, and I have now seen Israel from border to border. It is a highly varied landscape, both physically and culturally....I was able to collect pine cones in a northern region of the only remaining native forest in Israel as well as experience snorkeling in the Red Sea at one of the northernmost coral reefs in the world. I stayed in the close-knit community of a kibbutz and in the resort town of Eilat. My residence for the majority of my stay was with a family in Rehovot, Israel. A family stay such as this can demonstrate the cultural differences between countries while illustrating the similarities of human relationships. The variety of experience and knowledge has enriched my life more than I could have imagined.

The Peace Fellowship also gave me the opportunity to form friendships, and I appreciate greatly the chance to know Dr. Nir Atzmon. He was very helpful with any problems I had and put me at ease from the beginning, allowing me the freedom to explore my questions about research as well as the cultural, political, and religious aspects of Israeli society. He demonstrated complete confidence in my abilities, allowing me to participate in important parts of his research. He always treated me as capable and intelligent; as an equal. I am very grateful to have worked with someone who made everything a positive experience. The fellowship was instrumental in developing my independence and my ability to handle myself in a professional, intellectual capacity. My warmest thanks go to those people who supported me in this endeavor and believed in my ability to succeed.

Research Experiences

  1. Mycorrhizae and pathogen plating
    • Worked in maintaining cultures for future experimental use.
    • Experimented with different media compositions to evaluate effects on mycorrhizae growth. 
  2. Tree seedling inoculation (Pinus brutia)
    • Inoculated young seedlings with different combinations of six mycorrhizae treatments and Fusarium pathogen to determine if the symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizae inhibits pathogenic effects.
    • Studied the relative destructiveness of three different types of Fusarium on pine seedlings. Fusarium was grown on wheat and then mixed into a sterilized media. 10 control seedlings were planted, then 15 were planted with each of the 3 Fusarium strains.
    • Attempted to determine the effects of different mycorrhizae treatments on seedling drought tolerance. 
  3. Carbohydrate extraction from plant tissues
    • This experiment was conducted to determine the correlation between mycorrhizae treatment and assimilate distribution in seedlings.
    • Sugar Analysis: 100 mg of dried, crushed plant material is placed in envelopes and then inside glass vials. To each vial, 12 ml of 80% ethanol is added, and the samples are incubated for 30 minutes at 80°C (this process is repeated 4 times). The ethanol is then evaporated off, leaving the extracted sugars and water. The envelopes are then dried in the oven for use in starch extraction. The sugars and water are readied for the centrifuge by adding 200 mg of coal powder (to extract impurities) and balancing separate pairs of vials. Once centrifuged, the samples are placed in test tubes and distilled; water is added until the volumes are equal. The samples are then frozen. Precise samples are taken form these original compounds (0.3 ml for roots and shoots, 0.2 ml for needles) and added to enough distilled water to equal 1 ml. Five ml of 72% sulfuric acid is then added; the samples are boiled for 5 minutes, then cooled. Each sample is then tested in the color emitter. The results can be converted and used to give sugar concentration values.
    • Starch Analysis: The dried plant tissue samples used in the sugar extraction are removed from the paper envelopes and boiled. The resulting extracts are also prepared and then centrifuged, and the same process of adding sulfuric acid is used. The color emitter is once again used to evaluate each of the samples. Problem...dirty test tubes ruin your results, and you have to start over again! 
  4. Dry weight measurements
    • Several tree seedlings that had been planted under four different mycorrhizae treatments, as well as control group, were collected. The roots and shoots (including needles) were separated and dried. These samples were then weighed to determine the difference in overall mass that resulted from each of the treatments. There were significant increases in mass for those seedlings planted with mycorrhizae fungi. 
  5. Field measurements
    • Diameter and height measurements were taken on seedlings planted in the field. The goal was to determine the effect of imported strains of mycorrhizae on oak seedling establishment. 
  6. Soil sampling
    • Samples were taken from Eucalyptus trees that had been planted in drums and watered with wastewater before it was treated. Analysis of the samples was to be done to evaluate the potential of Eucalypts to remove toxic materials (heavy metals, excess nitrogen, etc.) from the soil. Different soil depths were monitored for toxic material content as well as microbiotic activity. Plant material was also collected for an examination of toxic material concentration in tissues. 
  7. Pine cone collection
    • Dr. Gabi Schiller enlisted my help for collecting pine cones from a presumably native stand of Pinus halepensis in the far north. Both Nir Atzmon and Gabi Schiller are involved in a study funded by a group in Europe to evaluate the genetic status of P. halepensis in the Mediterranean region.