Enormous, rare ‘corpse flower’ about to make pungent debut at IU’s Jordan Hall Greenhouse

If houseplants, like houseguests, start to stink after three days, then an extremely rare plant that hasn’t bloomed in nine years at IU’s Jordan Hall Greenhouse is due to create a stench for the ages.

One of the world’s largest species of flower, the Amorphophallus titanium or titan arum, is expected to put forth its first bloom any day now. Known as the “corpse flower” for its overpoweringly foul odor, the bloom of this plant is an extremely rare sight.

Corpse flower with Adam Fudickar

The corpse plant at IU’s Jordan Greenhouse on July 14. Adam Fudickar, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology, gives a sense of scale. Photo by Terri Green, Indiana University.

As of July 19, the plant’s stem had reached a height of 3 feet, with several more feet expected. Interested individuals can follow the flower’s progress in real time via a live webstream, or visit the IU Bloomington Department of Biology’s Facebook page and a special Web page for updates on the expected bloom date.

A native to western Sumatra, the corpse flower takes eight to 20 years to bloom for the first time. After that, the flower appears every three years, and each bloom lasts only 24 to 36 hours. This is the first bloom of IU’s flower, and only five corpse flower blooms have been publicly recorded worldwide in the past year.

“With all of its size and fragrance, the flowering of this plant is not to be missed,” said paleobotanist David Dilcher, professor emeritus in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology and Department of Geology. “Although it’s related to the calla lily, a common sight in gardens across Indiana, the titan arum is tropical, with an enormous flower that is deep red in color and smells like rotten meat. The bloom of this plant is a spectacular sight rarely seen outside of major botanical gardens.”

The flower will be open for public viewing from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at IU’s Jordan Hall Greenhouse, at the corner of Third Street and South Hawthorne Drive in Bloomington, Ind. Parking is available at the Atwater Garage on Faculty Drive, between Third Street and Atwater Avenue.

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High school students get crash course in science with latest addition to Biology Department’s summer research programs

Post by Lauren Bryant, associate director for research development communications, Office of the Vice Provost for Research:

When Mary Ann Tellas was a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington, she had the good fortune to encounter the late Jim Holland, a professor of biology at IU Bloomington known for his tireless recruiting and mentoring of students, particularly students underrepresented on campus.


RISE participants Sammy Cheng, left, and Cristen Lee, right, carry out an experiment in the lab of Tuli Mukhopadhyay, an associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology. Photo by Terri Greene.

“His biology course was packed with students, and I could see why. His teaching inspired students. He got me to really enjoy biology,” says Tellas, who went on to earn a degree in biology and teach high school biology in the Indianapolis area.

“Years later, Dr. Holland sought me out to work with a program he developed to address the racial disparities that exist in STEM,” Tellas adds. “I never knew how he found me, but I was honored to be a part of the initiative.”

Tellas now co-directs the program founded by Holland and has developed two additional related programs with Armin Moczek, professor of biology at IU Bloomington. The three STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs for underrepresented students are offered through the Department of Biology at IU Bloomington.

The first two programs are the Jim Holland Summer Enrichment Program, enabling eighth- to 10th-grade students to spend a week on campus, and the Jim Holland Summer Science Research Program, during which a subset of first-year students from the summer enrichment program return to campus to spend a week conducting research with an IU Bloomington faculty member.

The newest of the programs is the Jim Holland Research Initiative in STEM Education, or RISE, a two-week summer program that just finished its inaugural year this summer at IU Bloomington.

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Indiana University physicists playing key roles in quest for new particles

The building blocks that make up the elements on the periodic table are straightforward. Atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons.

But two of those particles – neutrons and protons – haven’t been considered elementary particles since the 1960s. They’re hadrons, composed of three quarks: subatomic particles that come in six “flavors,” up, down, top, bottom, charm and strange. There are also anti-quarks, which have similar properties but possess equal and opposite charges.

Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider is the largest and most powerful collider in the world used in the search for subatomic particles. Photo courtesy CERN.

Quark combinations include baryons, which contain three quarks, and mesons, which contain a single quark and an anti-quark. More recently four- and five-quark particles have been detected. This ever-growing menagerie of quark types and combinations is sometimes referred to by physicists as the “particle zoo.”

In the June 23 issue of the journal Nature, Matthew Shepherd, associate professor, and Ryan Mitchell, associate scientist, of the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics, along with Jozef Dudek of Old Dominion University, attempt to wrangle this unruly group together in a review paper that explores the current state of knowledge about these fundamental particles, as well as what physicists know about forces that guide their existence and formation, described in part by the theory of quantum chromodynamics.

The colleagues were invited to write the piece after Shepherd delivered a talk on exotic mesons at the 12th Conference on the Intersections of Particle and Nuclear Physics in May 2015.

In the paper, he and the other authors observe that physicists’ knowledge of the behavior and structure of hadrons is currently limited, in part, by the lack of any simple relationship between the quarks described by quantum chromodynamics and the properties of hadrons detected experimentally.

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Study finds that plant growth responses to high carbon dioxide depend on symbiotic fungi

Research by an international team of environmental scientists from the United Kingdom, Belgium and United States, including Indiana University, has found that plants that associate with one type of symbiotic fungi grow bigger in response to high levels of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the atmosphere, but plants that associate with the other major type of symbiotic fungi do not.

Ectomycorrhizal versus Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Ectomycorrhizal fungi (shown as mushrooms connected to the roots of the tree) increase the uptake of nitrogen by the plant. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (show as grass roots on the left) do not provide that advantage to their host. Image by Victor O. Leshyk

The study, which appears online today in the journal Science, calls into question whether the “greening of the Earth” that results from carbon dioxide stimulation of plant growth — often called the “CO2 fertilization effect” — will persist as fossil fuel emissions continue to rise globally.

“Pumping extra carbon dioxide into a greenhouse is a common tactic to stimulate plant growth, but nature is much more complex than a greenhouse,” said Richard Phillips, associate professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, who is a co-author on the study. “So, there is great debate about whether pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through fossil fuel combustion stimulates plant growth in nature, where soil nutrient levels are typically much lower than in a greenhouse.”

Fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plants are called mycorrhizal fungi. Over 90 percent of all plant life on Earth associates with mycorrhizal fungi, which provide plants with soil nutrients in exchange for plant carbohydrates.

“While researchers have long known that mycorrhizal fungi play an essential role in the growth and health of plants, their role in helping ecosystems store carbon has never been investigated on such a broad scale — until now,” said second-year PhD student César Terrer of Imperial College London, who is first author on the paper. “Our analysis is the first to demonstrate that only plants that associate with a certain type of fungal partner – one that helps them acquire nitrogen from soil – are likely to grow bigger as carbon dioxide levels rise.”

Other authors are on the study are Colin Prentice of Imperial College London; Sara Vicca of the University of Antwerp, Belgium; and Bruce A. Hungate of the Northern Arizona University.

The research team examined 83 experimental studies of plant responses to CO2 levels equivalent to those expected by the year 2050, assuming an increase of about 2 percent each year globally.

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IU postdoctoral researcher named a Pew Latin American Fellow in the Biomedical Sciences

A postdoctoral researcher in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry is one of only 10 scientists named to the 2016 class of Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences, a program of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Daiana Capdevila

A native of Argentina, Daiana A. Capdevila will receive support from the program to spend two years in the lab of Lilly Chemistry Alumni Professor David Giedroc, whose group conducts basic research into the fight against drug-resistant bacterial infection.

“My work at IU involves performing experiments with bacteria to explore the biological aspects of protein regulation,” Capdevila said. “This includes studying how sensor proteins from bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus cause molecular changes that allow them to bind to DNA and control the creation of proteins, evading the immune response.”

The research puts her in the middle of the “arms race” between the immune system and bacteria. The sensor proteins studied in Capdevila’s work are used by bacteria to trigger the activation of genes that allow these microbes to counteract the immune system’s efforts to either withhold or poison them with metal ions, a strategy evolved by the immune system to defeat bacterial infection.

Insights from the work could contribute to the development of a novel class of antibiotics able to fight bacteria such as multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The primary bacterial strain in deadly hospital-acquired infections, MRSA was estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have infected over 72,000 people in the United States in 2014 alone.

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IU Bloomington researcher working to reveal genetic clues behind long-term survival in ovarian cancer

Although not as common as some forms of cancer in the U.S., ovarian cancer ranks among the top causes of cancer death in women. It’s notoriously difficult to detect early, and most women who receive an advanced stage diagnosis do not survive more than five years.

Kenneth P. Nephew

Kenneth P. Nephew

But a small percentage of patients live far longer. To find out why, IU Bloomington researcher Kenneth P. Nephew is a part of the Ovarian Cancer Consortium for Long-Term Survival, which recently received “Phase II” funding from the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program.

As a co-investigator in the consortium, Nephew is working to help more women join the ranks of these long-term survivors. He will investigate and describe the epigenome of tumors from ovarian cancer survivors who have survived 10 or more years following a diagnosis of advanced stage ovarian cancer.

“We’re working to reveal the secrets of these tumors to find out what makes these women genetically unique,” said Nephew, a professor of cellular and integrative physiology and obstetrics and gynecology in the Medical Sciences Program at the IU School of Medicine-Bloomington. “We want to identify these genetic differences, and build upon this knowledge to work toward improving the long-term survival and quality of life for all women impacted by this disease.”

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IU sophomore on ‘front end’ of sustainability research on bird migration, climate

“If there’s ever a fire, we’re supposed to grab that book first.”

That’s how one researcher describes the only copy of a binder containing nearly 50 years of painstakingly collected data on the migratory patterns of dark-eyed juncos in southern Indiana.

The person currently contributing new information to this priceless document is Lia Bobay, a sophomore environmental science major in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs who is collecting and analyzing data on the birds as a 2020 Sustainability Scholar.

Undergraduates in IU’s 2020 Sustainability Scholars Program participate in two semesters of sustainability research with access to world-class faculty on the IU Bloomington campus. Bobay’s research mentors are Ellen Ketterson, IU Distinguished Professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, and Adam Fudickar, a postdoctoral researcher in Ketterson’s lab.

A renowned expert on birds, Ketterson started her research on dark-eyed juncos in the early 1960s in collaboration with the late Val Nolan Jr., IU professor of law and biology, and Ketterson’s husband. The junco data log sits on a shelf outside her office in Jordan Hall on the IU Bloomington campus.

Lia Bobay and Adam Fudickar

Lia Bobay and Adam Fudickar hold birds captured at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve. Birds are released after tagging. Photo by Eric Rudd

The logs contain hundreds of pages of measurements — times, temperatures, climate conditions, bird weight and sex — with each line representing a single junco captured and released in the field. Collecting data on a single bird can take hours.

Since the fall, Bobay has been working with Fudickar to determine whether climate change has altered the male-to-female ratio of dark-eyed juncos in southern Indiana. The birds, which breed in the boreal forests of northern Canada and Alaska, migrate to Indiana during the cold-weather months of November to April. Historically, males outnumber females in Indiana and females outnumber males in southern states.

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White House highlights IU’s role in initiative to preserve water quality on Indiana farmlands

A summit on water quality hosted by the Obama administration on March 22 highlighted a program to improve water quality in the nation’s heartland led in part by Indiana University.

Todd V. Royer

Todd V. Royer

The project is the Indiana Watershed Initiative, which uses watershed-scale conservation methods to reduce nutrient runoff from regional farms. Todd V. Royer, an associate professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is a member of the project led by University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative.

“It is an honor for our work to be recognized by the White House during this period of increased concern about water quality in the United States,” said Royer, who also chairs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Nutrient Science Advisory Committee. “We’re confident that our research will provide information that can be used throughout the Midwest to improve water quality while maintaining productive farmland.”

An expert on the ecological and biogeochemical processes that affect water quality in streams and rivers, Royer’s work has a strong focus on Indiana farms. In his laboratory at IU, he and his students conduct work to identify and reduce the sources of pollution to water, such as nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural regions, and road salt and pharmaceutical compounds in urban settings.

The Indiana Watershed Initiative, a part of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, combines two practical conservation methods that prevent nutrient and sediment loss from cropland. These are the planting of winter cover crops and the restoration of floodplains.

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IU to host Society for Ecological Restoration annual chapter meeting

Over 200 individuals from 13 U.S. states and Colombia are expected to arrive at Indiana University April 1 to 3 for the annual meeting of the Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration.

The event, “Overcoming Challenges to Ecological Restoration in the 21st Century,” will be held in the Indiana University Memorial Union on the IU Bloomington campus.

A keynote presentation by Douglas Ladd, director of conservation for the Nature Conservancy in Missouri, will take place as part of the event from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. on April 2 in the IMU. The title of his talk is “Does Ecological Restoration Need a Rethink?”

Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration logo

The Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration promotes the science and practice of ecological restoration across seven states, including Indiana.

Registration is open to the public. Registration is $170 ($95 for students) for all three days or $100 ($50 for students) for one day. On-site registration is available at the IMU East Lounge from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. April 1 and from 7 to 11 a.m. April 2.

“This event is an opportunity to share information on the science and practice of the ecological restoration of forests, grasslands, urban areas, wetlands, streams and rivers,” said Mary Damm, a graduate student in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology and a member of the organizing committee for the meeting. “Restoring land includes not only planting native trees and herbs, but also re-establishing ecosystem processes such as ground water storage for wetlands and controlled burns to oak forests, savannas and prairies.”

The Midwest-Great Lakes Society for Ecological Restoration Chapter, which serves a seven-state region of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, is one of the society’s largest regional chapters in the world. The chapter promotes the science and practice of ecological restoration to assist with the recovery and management of degraded ecosystems throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes region of the U.S.

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Craft brewing is a passion and a business for IU biochemist and cancer researcher Matt Bochman

When Matt Bochman arrived at Indiana University Bloomington three years ago as an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry — fresh off a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University — one of the first things he did was pay a visit to some of the craft breweries throughout the region.

But this tour of the local watering holes was as much business as pleasure.

“I wanted to get my name out there as the local ‘yeast guy,'” he said.

IU assistant professor Matthew Bochman, center, with graduate student Cody Rogers, left, and Caleb Staton, director of sour operations at Upland Brewing Co. The trio hold glasses of the brew recovered based upon research in Bochman’s lab and conducted in collaboration with the local brewery.

Although his primary work involves conducting basic research with applications to cancer, Bochman also has a passion for the science of craft brewing, including the microscopic organisms that are key to the brewing process.

Shortly after making the rounds of local breweries, Bochman struck up a fruitful partnership with Flat 12 Bierwerks, a craft brewery in downtown Indianapolis just a mile east of Monument Circle. The owners reached out because they wanted to create “an all-Indiana beer.”

“They peppered me with all sorts of questions — about quality control, setting up a lab, experimenting with yeast — but what they really wanted to do was create a whole new brew,” Bochman said. “They had Indiana water, they had Indiana hops, they had barley that was grown and malted in the state, but they needed the yeast.”

Fortunately, brewer’s yeast grows on trees — literally. Tree bark is one of the best sources for the tiny microbes. So are flowers, fruits, berries and many other natural resources across the state. Soon Bochman had helped Flat 12 identify a strain of yeast for their project.

He has also consulted with breweries and craft distilleries such as Cardinal Spirits and Upland Brewing Co. in Bloomington; Sun King Brewery and Central State Brewing in Indianapolis; and the Maui Brewing Co., based in Hawaii.

But collaboration with Flat 12 also sparked an idea for a business. In 2015, Bochman successfully applied for a $13,000 translational research pilot grant from the Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research, an IU Bloomington-based organization in Simon Hall that works with faculty throughout the campus to identify current and new research programs that hold commercial potential and to protect intellectual property.

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