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.
-end-
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. ag.tennessee.edu

University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

Related Social Media Articles:

Exploring the use of 'stretchable' words in social media
An investigation of Twitter messages reveals new insights and tools for studying how people use stretched words, such as 'duuuuude,' 'heyyyyy,' or 'noooooooo.' Tyler Gray and colleagues at the University of Vermont in Burlington present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on May 27, 2020.
How social media platforms can contribute to dehumanizing people
A recent analysis of discourse on Facebook highlights how social media can be used to dehumanize entire groups of people.
Social media influencers could encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines
Public health bodies should consider incentivizing social media influencers to encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines, say researchers.
Social grooming factors influencing social media civility on COVID-19
A new study analyzing tweets about COVID-19 found that users with larger social networks tend to use fewer uncivil remarks when they have more positive responses from others.
Using social media to understand the vaccine debate in China
Vaccine acceptance is a crucial public health issue, which has been exacerbated by the use of social media to spread content expressing vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine misinformation and social media
People who rely on social media for information were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines than those who rely on traditional media, according to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
How social media makes breakups that much worse
Even those who use Facebook features like unfriending, unfollowing, blocking and Take a Break still experience troubling encounters with ex-partners online, a new study shows.
Teens must 'get smart' about social media
New research indicates that social media is leading young adolescent girls and boys down a worrying path towards developing body image issues and eating disorder behaviours - even though they are smartphone savvy.
Social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents
New research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that social media, particularly platforms with a strong focus on image posting and viewing, is associated with disordered eating in young adolescents.
STD crowd-diagnosis requests on social media
Online postings seeking information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on the social media website Reddit were analyzed to see how often requests were made for a crowd-diagnosis and whether the requested diagnosis was for a second opinion after seeing a health care professional.
More Social Media News and Social Media Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.