Interdisciplinary Aquaculture: Production Production Production!

By HunSik Chu, Water INTERface IGEP student

There have been lot of amazing researches and advancements in aquaculture technologies in recent years. This is due to the fast-evolving world of booming global population, increasing food shortage problem, scarcity of habitable lands, loss of potable water, and acceleration of global warming. In order to solve these problems, aquaculture is getting more attention than ever before.Chu image 1

In order to learn more about the whole industry, I attended 2016 Aquaculture Triannual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in February. This specific conference is held every three year by multiple aquaculture related sponsors such as World Aquaculture Society, National Shellfisheries Association, American Fisheries Society, and National Aquaculture Association. Because of its size, it is a must attend for anyone involved in the aquaculture industry.

Scientific conferences are alwaChu image 2ys highly intellectually stimulating because it is not just about researches. There are scientists, aquaculturists, seafood processors, aquaculture technology engineers and etc. This mingling of everyone involved in aquaculture is refreshing to be part of. Sometimes, researchers are so wrapped in their own bubble that they forget the importance of how the food processors, aquaculturists, consumers, and researchers are all interconnected in tight web.

One thing I have noticed at the conference was how big of disconnection existed between the aquaculture industry and the consumers. Currently, most focused area is creating sustainable practices while maximizing production levels. Here, Maximizing production is the key factor. Therefore, most talks I’ve attended mentions mostly about the importance of their researches by relating to the improvement of production efficiency. Considering the growth of human population, insufficient supply of high quality protein diet is really important. Not only this is where the money lies, but also has ethical importance. However, because aquaculture industry is so warped around providing enough food to the market, quality and consumer-producer dialogue has received minimal attention.

There is an obvious benefits of improving production efficiency in aquaculture industry. However, I’m afraid that if we don’t think more than production we’ll go down the road of unsustainable practices including habitat destructions, antiobiotics and pollutant contamination, or low quality products leading to consumers refusing to buy the products due to health or moral stances. It is also true that catering fully towards consumers who are not always aware of all aspects of the industry can be destructive as well. Therefore, good balance of open communications and transparency can really alleviate many problems.

I believe we’re heading in the right directions. Aquaculture industry is growing in order to provide quality protein sources all around the world. It is also improving the quality of the products to more health-conscious consumers. Lastly, it is also working hard to push for cleaner and safer food source. Aquaculturists are aware of the problems involving waste water, natural habitat disruptions, antibiotic overuses, and etc. However, doing all the good things without properly communChu image 3icating to the consumers will negatively impact the the industry. Therefore, I would like to suggests to the aquaculture industry to be more actively involved with the consumers and distribution companies (i.e. supermarkets) to improve the image of aquacultured products.

For further readings:
FAO. (2014). FAO Yearbook 2012. (ISSN 2070-6057). Statistics and Information Branch: Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
Naylor, R. L., Goldburg, R. J., Primavera, J. H., Kautsky, N., Beveridge, M. C., Clay, J., … & Troell, M. (2000). Effect of aquaculture on world fish supplies. Nature405(6790), 1017-1024.
The World Bank. (2014). Sustainable Aquaculture. World Bank Group.


IGEP Student’s Perspective at the American Chemical Society Conference

By Naerin Baek, Water INTERface student

I attended the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and Exposition from March 13th through 17th in San Diego, California.  The theme of this spring’s ACS National Meeting was “Computers in Chemistry.” The ACS National Meeting is one of the largest science and engineering conferences as over 10,000 people such as scientists, engineers, undergraduate and graduate students and other professionals attend each year, and  there were more than 30 technical divisions each providing various chemistry-related presentations, industry exhibitions, educational workshops, career fairs, social events and receptions. With the conferences size and various programs which it offers, it was important for me to plan my time wisely so that I can learn and experience others’ research work and network with other conference participants.

I presented my Ph.D. research project in the division of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.  It was such a great experience to share my Ph.D. research project with other researchers outside of the department as well as learning other researcher’s innovative work, advanced technology and potential impacts to our society through their presentations.

Among many creative research works, one of the interesting presentations was “Hydrophobically-modified nanoporous silica aerogel: Novel food contact surface inhibiting adhesion of gram negative and gram positive bacteria”, which was presented by a Ph.D. student from Material Science and Engineering at Texas A & M University.  His presentation was about the impact of hydrophobically modified nanoporous silica aerogel which significantly reduced bacteria contamination such as gram positive and gram negative bacteria more effectively than hydrophilic and hydrophobic nanoporous silica material due to the formation of air pocket with hydrophobic properties restricting adhesion of bacteria on the contact surfaces.  The hydrophobically modified nanoporous silica aerogel showed better antiadhesive effects for reduction of bacterial contamination compared to the common food contact materials such as glass, polycarbonate and stainless steel.

I think his research has the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary features with Nanotechnology, Material Science and Engineering, Microbiology and Food Science that can potentially be applied to prevent bacteria contaminations on food contact surfaces such as food packaging, food processing facilities and food preparing facilities. Additional interesting thing about his presentation was use of the hydrophobic modification technique for nanoporous silica aerogel.  It was an innovative way to increase efficiency of the material that can prevent bacteria contamination on the contact surfaces. The antiadhesive hygienic material would have potential for use on various surfaces and environments where the places require high sanitization and disinfection in order to prevent cross contamination.

As I attended others’ presentations and learned about their research areas, nanomaterial and applications, new technology and efficient methods for analysis, and software programs for analysis, it was a valuable learning and eye-opening experience to help me broadening my perspectives. I felt that most of the presentations I attended were not limited to a single discipline, rather the studies were comprised of multiple characteristics of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies to provide more effective solutions to be applied in a variety of fields.

The experience gave me great inspirations and lots of learning opportunities in agriculture and food chemistry as well as other disciplines. I hope to attend the ACS conference next year in San Francisco.

Megan O’Rourke is on a $2 million grant to combat agricultural pests in Asia

From VT News
A $2 million grant recently awarded to the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will empower farmers in Asia to grow food in a way that addresses challenges of climate change and uses sustainable farming methods to feed a global population that is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.
“Investing in agriculture is essential for developing economies to move forward because it allows local populations to increase their incomes through improved agricultural productivity,” said George Norton, professor ...

The first annual Interfaces of Global Change Research Symposium brings campus labs together to solve global problems

The first annual Interfaces of Global Change (IGC) Graduate Research Symposium was a great opportunity for IGC Fellows to share their research with the entire global change community at Virginia Tech. The 2-day symposium began on Thursday evening, April 21st, with a special Distinguished Lecture at the Lyric Theatre featuring Dr. Josh Tewksbury, Future Earth. A full slate of events on Friday, April 22nd, provided a forum for students and faculty to interact and explore connections between labs.
During two platform sessions, nine IGC fellows gave oral presentations, ...

Clinical Microfluidics for Immunological Studies in Health and Disease

Gustavo Neutrophil imagePerspective from attending seminar outside home discipline by Gustavo Arango Argoty, Computer Science:

Neutrophils are the most abundant (62%) type of white blood cells. They form an essential part of the immune system, specially by protecting against microbes during exposure to infection, they move fast and it is estimate that 25 billion of them run through the blood stream (Figure 1).
Neutrophils are activated during the process of inflammation, especially, during the acute phase and are known to be one the first elements that responds to the inflammation. But, despite its ability of move fast, their migration is altered in patients with major burns. However, their correlation with sepsis and high rate of infection is not well understood. Microfluidic devices are designed to quantify the neutrophil migration with high precision. Thus, neutrophils are placed into smaller channels than their size and forced to make decisions to move through bifurcations (around posts) or to follow a straight path. The neutrophil migration measured in healthy and major burn patients revealed that in presence of sepsis neutrophils migrate spontaneously in major burns patients, whereas, this behavior is not encountered in major burn patients without sepsis. These findings suggest neutrophils as potential markers for diagnosing and monitoring sepsis in patients with major burns.
Dr. Jones mentioned during the presentation that this work was made with the help of different disciplines through several years of research. Actually, at the end of the presentation she mentioned several collaborators from different areas such as mathematics, engineering and biology which made me realize the importance of collaboration. I didn’t know about this kind of research until the seminar. So, it is very interesting for me to see those completely different areas and their application to real world problems. I found exciting to know about those neutrophils and their impact in our bodies when we get an injury but also how they can get “confused” by some good chemicals (when you receive some medicine in a urgency) and can provoke an increase on risk of infection.

Dr. Josh Tewksbury to visit Virginia Tech April 21st

Ecologist Josh Tewksbury to visit Virginia Tech and Lyric Theatre
From VT News
Josh Tewksbury, an ecologist and director of the Colorado Global Hub at Future Earth, will visit Virginia Tech next week.
He will give a 4:45 p.m. lecture on April 21 at the Lyric Theatre entitled “Living in the Anthropocene: Science, Sustainability and Society.”
The event, sponsored by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, is free and open to the public.
Tewksbury is an ecologist, conservation biologist, ...

Virginia Tech researchers say Flint-like water problems also present in Virginia wells

From the Roanoke Times
Article by Robby Korth
Flint, Michigan, is hardly the only place Virginia Tech researchers are looking for contaminants in drinking water.
In Virginia, one team that’s part of Virginia Tech’s Cooperative Extension has tested private well samples serving 16,000 people across the state since 2008.
Researchers discovered health-based contaminants above federal standards for municipal systems in almost 60 percent of the well samples — including Flint-like elevated lead levels in almost 20 percent of homes and ...

Jacob Barney receives grant to study invasive Johnsongrass

From VT News
A Virginia Tech researcher will spend five years ‘deep in the weeds’ of Johnsongrass research with the help of a $5 million grant from the USDA.
Johnsongrass, native to the Mediterranean region, has snuffed out important native plants in the United States since it was first introduced in the 1800s, costing the agriculture industry millions of dollars each year.
In collaboration with lead researchers at the University of Georgia, Jacob Barney, an assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, ...