Nav: Home

Seeing the forest through the trees

October 26, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Autumn adorns trees with richly hued leaves and clusters of nuts or other presentations of seeds for the future of tree species. Meg Staton, a research scientist with a penchant for big data, looks at these trees and sees thousands upon thousands of data points to be compiled for analyses.

Staton is an assistant professor of bioinformatics with the University of Tennessee Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, and she is also a co-principal investigator in a three-year, $3-million grant by the National Science Foundation to develop a user-friendly interface that will help forest scientists everywhere record and share their genomic data for various tree species. As part of the grant, which was awarded earlier this year, researchers from four universities are working with the U.S. Forest Service's Southern Research Station to accelerate both basic discovery and improvement of important agronomic and silvic traits in tree crops.

Dorrie Main, a professor at Washing State University (WSU), is principal investigator for the project, but Staton is leading the UT Institute of Agriculture portion of the effort, which totals more than $623,000.

The project team proposes to "create a model 'ecosystem' of community databases that can inter-communicate and will also provide big data analysis tools utilizing common controlled vocabularies." Just what is big data? In the case of this project, big data is the collection of massive amounts of information regarding the genomics of trees. Staton says the sets of information are so large that a single researcher would have difficulty storing and analyzing all the information for a single plant or for a collection of plants or species.

"There are so many sources of public data available, but they can be disorganized and difficult to find. We plan to link the many different types of open research data for trees together as richly annotated data sets," Staton said. "With access to new data sets and enhanced computing capabilities through the web, researchers can build on previous work to enhance selection, breeding and management of trees for a variety of goals, such as agronomic efficiency gains and conservation of native species.

A previous grant allowed the researchers, including Staton, to develop the cyberinfrastructure for the Tripal software which allows for flexible access to information already existing for forest and fruit trees. Once complete, Tripal will enable scientists and the public to easily access information about trees, tree genetics, sequences of tree genomes and other information housed in specialized tree breeding and research community databases. Staton adds that there may soon be a social media component of the highly technical database. "We're working to make the Tripal cyberinfrastructure interface compatible with certain mobile apps that allow users to geo-tag tree species on social media. Citizens are valuable allies in protecting our forests, and it's also a great way to engage youth with the outdoors and our beautiful local trees," she said.

The grant will also enable adoption of these new data-sharing capabilities through development of educational online modules that can train scientists to effectively query existing data, upload new data, assign metadata and perform custom analyses.

The investigators also hope that this project will help raise public awareness of the importance of healthy trees as well as promote stewardship of our forests. They write in their grant proposal abstract that healthy trees are of critical importance to a productive, sustainable planet and the U.S. economy.
Other participating researchers in the project are Sook Jung and Stephen Ficklin from WSU, Jill Wegrzyn from the University of Connecticut and Albert Abbott from the University of Kentucky.

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.

University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

Related Social Media Articles:

Can seeing the Facebook logo make you crave social media?
A new study examined how social media cues such as the Facebook logo may affect frequent and less frequent social media users differently, sparking spontaneous hedonic reactions that make it difficult to resist social media cravings.
People could be genetically predisposed to social media use
Chance York (Kent State University) used a behavior genetics framework and twin study data from the 2013 Midlife in the United States survey, York examined how both environmental and genetic factors contribute to social media use by applying an analytical model called Defries-Fulker Regression.
New survey reveals almost 6 in 10 teens take a break from social media
A new survey reveals that 58 percent of American teens report taking significant breaks from social media, and that many of these breaks are voluntary.
Who are you on social media? New research examines norms of online personas
According to the Pew Research center, the majority of adults on the internet have more than one social networking profile on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Social media tools can reinforce stigma and stereotypes
Researchers have developed new software to analyze social media comments, and used this tool in a recent study to better understand attitudes that can cause emotional pain, stigmatize people and reinforce stereotypes.
Floods and hurricanes predicted with social media
Social media can warn us about extreme weather events before they happen -- such as hurricanes, storms and floods - according to new research by the University of Warwick.
Why is some social media content interpreted as bragging?
People who post personal content on social networking sites such as Facebook and try to present themselves in a positive light may be perceived as bragging, and therefore be less attractive to others, according to a new study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Your (social media) votes matter
Tim Weninger, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame, conducted two large-scale experiments on Reddit and the results provide insight into how a single up/down vote can influence what content users see on the site.
Multi-social millennials more likely depressed than social(media)ly conservative peers
Compared with the total time spent on social media, use of multiple platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health found in a national survey.
Computers can take social media data and make marketing personas
Computers may be able to group consumers into marketing segments in real time just by observing how they respond to online videos and other social media data, according to a team of researchers.

Related Social Media Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#532 A Class Conversation
This week we take a look at the sociology of class. What factors create and impact class? How do we try and study it? How does class play out differently in different countries like the US and the UK? How does it impact the political system? We talk with Daniel Laurison, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College and coauthor of the book "The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged", about class and its impacts on people and our systems.